Suicide Risk After Childhood Sexual Assault

Suicide occurs when an individual takes their own life. A suicide attempt is an act of suicide that does not result in completion (death). Suicidal ideation is more common than suicide or a suicide attempt, and occurs when an individual thinks about committing suicide. Sometimes these thoughts are involuntary and sporadic, while other times, these ideations can be all-consuming and make up the majority of a person’s thoughts. Suicide and suicidal thoughts are often the result of severe emotional distress.

Since childhood sexual abuse (CSA) can lead to long-term, severe emotional impacts and mental health issues, survivors of CSA may have a higher risk of committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide in their lifetime.1

Results from Gravity Network’s Childhood Abuse and Sexual Trauma (CAST) survey found that many survivors frequently struggle(d) with self-harm and suicidal thoughts or feelings. 2-4

Risk of suicide can vary

Some outlets have reported that suicide risk increases with the length of time the abuse occurred. For example, individuals who were repeatedly abused may be at a higher risk of committing suicide later on. Overall, it has been estimated that those who were sexually abused as children may have a 2-11 times higher risk of attempting suicide.

Additionally, it has been reported that children who were both physically and sexually abused have a greater risk of committing suicide than those who experienced solely sexual abuse.1 However, it’s important to remember that suicide can impact any one, regardless of age, gender, abuse history, socio-economic status, and personal demographics.

Recognize the warning signs

Recognizing the warning signs of suicide ideation or danger of suicide in yourself or in a loved one may be critical to saving a life. Signs of an individual being in danger of suicide or experiencing suicidal ideations include, but are not limited to, the following:5

  • Talking or thinking about wanting to kill oneself or wanting to die
  • Major sleep changes, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • Acting agitated, reckless, or reckless
  • Having severe mood swings
  • Talking about revenge or showing rage
  • Withdrawing from activities and others or showing signs or feelings of isolation
  • Increase substance abuse (such as illicit drug and alcohol)
  • Talking about being trapped or a burden to others (or having feelings of being trapped or a burden to others)
  • Feeling hopeless or talking about feeling hopeless or not having a purpose
  • Looking for or thinking about ways to kill oneself
There are ways to help

There are ways to help individuals who are thinking about committing suicide, and ways to help manage emotional distress that may be leading to suicidal thoughts or attempts. Some of these treatment options include medications, therapy (both individual and group), counseling, rehabilitation centers, and more. If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of depression, severe emotional distress, mental illness, or suicidal ideations or behaviors, it is important to seek help immediately, because there is hope for recovery. Additionally, if you or a loved one ever express a desire to end their life, there is a Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can provide support 24/7 and is staffed with trained professionals. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be dialed at 1-800-273-8255.

  1. Childhood Sexual Abuse and Suicide 2016. American Association of Suicidology. Accessed December 15, 2017.
  2. Have you ever engaged in self-harm or self-mutilation? (n=746)
  3. Have you ever experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings? (n=753)
  4. Have you ever tried to commit suicide? (n=732)
  5. Warning Signs of Suicide. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE). Accessed December 15, 2017.


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