Adults who witnessed parental domestic violence in childhood are at increased risk for suicide attempts, a new study finds.
“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,” said study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson. She is a professor with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.
The researchers examined data from more than 22,500 Canadian adults. They found that about 17 percent of those exposed to chronic parental domestic violence (more than 10 times before age 16) had attempted suicide, compared with roughly 2 percent of those not exposed to parental domestic violence.
“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,” Fuller-Thomson said in a university news release. “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.”
These chaotic home environments cast a long shadow, she added.
“Social workers and health professionals must continue to work vigilantly to prevent domestic violence and to support survivors of this abuse and their children,” Fuller-Thomson said.
The study also found that adults who were maltreated during their childhood were more likely to have attempted suicide. Almost 17 percent of those who’d been sexually abused and more than 12 percent of physically abused children were later found to have made at least one suicide attempt, said study co-author Reshma Dhrodia, a recent Master of Social Work graduate.
The researchers also found that a history of major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and/or chronic pain was associated with significantly higher odds of a suicide attempt.
The study was published online June 9 in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry outlines how to help children exposed to domestic violence.