Sexual violence and experience of multiple traumatic events predict suicidal behaviour

December 2017
Afzali MH, Sunderland M, Batterham PJ, Carragher N, Slade T (2017). Trauma characteristics, post-traumatic symptoms, psychiatric disorders and suicidal behaviours: Results from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Doi: 10.1177/0004867416683815

There are a number of significant gaps in our knowledge about the relationship between traumatic events and suicidal behaviours. The authors, from the Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use (CREMS), used data from a large nationally representative study to:

  • Examine whether trauma type is associated with suicidal behaviours (defined by suicide ideation, plan, attempt) after adjusting for sociodemographics, exposure to other traumatic events and the number of traumatic events.
  • Evaluate the possible role of particular PTSD symptom clusters beyond the type and the number of trauma.
  • Evaluate the possible role of psychiatric disorders beyond trauma and trauma-related symptoms.

The analysis found that sexual violence and exposure to multiple traumatic events were particularly associated with suicidal behaviours. The presence of the emotional numbing symptom cluster and co-occurrence of three psychiatric disorders (major depressive disorder, alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder) also increased the odds of suicidal behaviours.

These findings have important implications. From a policy perspective, initiatives to increase public awareness about the traumatic effects of sexual and interpersonal violence as well as prevention of sexual and interpersonal violence holds promise for reducing, at least in part, suicidal behaviours. From a clinical perspective, this study highlights the need for a thorough assessment of trauma history, traumatic symptoms (specifically emotional numbing symptoms) and history of psychiatric disorders among trauma-exposed individuals.