Witnessing Chronic Parental Violence Linked to Future Suicide Attempt

Approximately one in six children who witness chronic parental violence will attempt suicide as an adult, according to a new study at the University of Toronto.

The findings reveal that the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts among adults who had been exposed to chronic parental domestic violence during childhood was 17.3 percent compared to 2.3 percent among those without this childhood adversity.

“We had expected that the association between chronic parental domestic violence and later suicide attempts would be explained by childhood sexual or physical abuse, or by mental illness and substance abuse.

“However, even when we took these factors into account, those exposed to chronic parental domestic violence still had more than twice the odds of having attempted suicide,” said lead author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Institute for Life Course and Aging.

For the study, the researchers looked at a nationally representative sample of 22,559 community-dwelling Canadians, using data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. Parental domestic violence was defined as “chronic” if the child had witnessed it more than 10 times before the age of 16.

“When domestic violence is chronic in a home, there is a risk of long term negative outcomes for the children, even when the children themselves are not abused. These chaotic home environments cast a long shadow. Social workers and health professionals must continue to work vigilantly to prevent domestic violence and to support survivors of this abuse and their children” said Fuller-Thomson.

The researchers add that participants who had experienced childhood abuse were also more likely to have attempted suicide, with 16.9 percent of those sexually abused and 12.4 percent of those physically abused having made at least one suicide attempt.

Furthermore, having a history of anxiety disorders, substance abuse and/or chronic pain approximately doubled the odds of suicide attempts, while a history of major depressive disorder quadrupled the odds of suicide attempts.

“These four factors accounted for only 10 percent of the association between suicide attempts and parental domestic violence, but almost half of the association between suicide attempts and childhood sexual abuse or physical abuse,” said Stephanie Baird, a co-author and social work doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

“This suggests professionals working with survivors of childhood adversities should consider a wide range of interventions addressing mental illness, substance abuse and chronic pain.”

The findings are published online in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.

Source: University of Toronto