Adults with a history of childhood physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or neglect are at least two to three times more likely to attempt suicide, according to a new large-scale study conducted by U.K. psychologists at The University of Manchester and the University of South Wales.

The researchers analyzed 68 global studies involving 262,000 adults ages 18 years or older who had been exposed to childhood abuse and neglect.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, show that suicide attempts were three times more likely for people who experienced childhood sexual abuse; two and a half times more likely for those who experienced childhood physical abuse; and two and a half times more likely for those who experienced childhood emotional abuse or neglect.

Adults who experienced multiple types of childhood abuse were up to five times more likely to attempt suicide. The risk of suicide attempts increased with age, and those not in contact with mental health clinicians were at the highest risk level.

“Around one adult in every three has experienced abuse as a child,” said study leader Dr. Maria Panagioti from The University of Manchester, also based at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Greater Manchester patient safety translational research.

“This study conclusively gives us solid evidence that childhood abuse and neglect is associated with increased likelihood that they will be at risk of suicide as adults.”

“And that has important implications on healthcare. Other studies have shown that in the US, for example, the economic burden of childhood maltreatment is estimated to be around $124 billion.”

Current treatment for people with suicidal behaviors often centers around cognitive behavioral therapy, says Panagioti, but that assumes people will seek help themselves. These findings show that those who are not under the care of clinicians are also at risk.

Panagioti says there needs to be a new approach to identify these people living in the community and that we should focus efforts on effective community interventions.

“These findings not only provided a clear picture of the connection between abuse or neglect in childhood and suicide attempts later on in life, but also recognised that efficient interventions should take a broader community-based approach,” adds Dr. Ioannis Angelakis from the University of South Wales.

Source: University of Manchester