Sexual Assault Associated With Increased Rate Of Attempted Suicide

June 13, 1996

DURHAM, N.C. -- A survey of nearly 3,000 North Carolina residents has found that women with a history of sexual assault are six times more likely to attempt suicide at some point in their lives, according to a study at Duke University Medical Center. Women at particular risk are those who reported having been sexually assaulted prior to the age of 16, the survey showed.

The Duke researchers say their findings convey an important message to primary care and mental health providers who are assessing potential suicide risks among their patients. Results of the study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health, were reported in the June 13 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"The immensely damaging effects of an event such as sexual assault cannot be stressed too strongly, particularly in individuals with other vulnerability factors such as family dysfunction and emotional or developmental problems," said Dr. Jonathan Davidson, professor of psychiatry and principal investigator of the study. Co-authors of the study were Dana Hughes, Linda George and Duke psychiatrist Dr. Dan Blazer, who is dean of medical education at Duke.

The link between sexual assault and suicide remained strong even when researchers accounted for the effects of other suicide risk factors, such as major depression, panic attacks, substance abuse, and demographic factors like age and health status, the survey found. The researchers said they were careful to distinguish between the effects of the sexual assault itself versus the recurrent emotional symptoms associated with a traumatic event, a condition known as post traumatic stress syndrome.

To help identify women at risk, the researchers suggest that all health care providers -- from nurses and physician assistants to emergency doctors and primary care physicians -- raise their awareness of how sexual assault influences the risk of attempted suicide, especially since a significant number of sexual assault victims never seek mental health care.

"Women may not be seeking help for problems specifically related to their sexual assaults, but they are going to the doctor for other reasons," said Davidson, who noted that sexual assault victims visit health care providers more often for physical and mental health symptoms.

The survey consisted of two-hour, face-to-face interviews with 2,918 adults in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Respondents were asked about demographic characteristics, history of sexual assault, history of suicide attempts, post traumatic stress symptoms, alcohol abuse, chronic medical conditions, and a variety of mental health issues. Each respondent was given the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, which screens for all major psychiatric disorders.

Of the respondents, 62 women and five men reported a history of one or more sexual assaults. The survey showed that nine of these 67 subjects, or 14.9 percent, reported one or more attempted suicides. Among those who did not report a sexual assault, only 1.4 said they had attempted suicide. After controlling for demographic variables and other risk factors, the researchers concluded that assaulted women were six times more likely to attempt suicide. The sample size of sexually assaulted men was too small to draw any conclusions.

The researchers also said their data do not prove that sexual assault is the cause of a higher attempted suicide rate in women -- only that the two factors are strongly related. Future studies will need to examine the cause-and-effect relationship between the two variables, Davidson said.

Duke University

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to