Background: Suicide has increased among American youth, and remains a concern on college campuses where students have reported increasing levels of psychological distress, alcohol use, social isolation, and loneliness. Abuse is known to be a risk factor for suicide, but more research is needed to understand whether current specific types of abuse and their co-occurrence are related to current suicidal thoughts and behaviors among young adults in college.
Methods: We analyzed data from the 2019 wave of the Healthy Minds Study, a cross-sectional, web-based survey administered to undergraduate and graduate students. Using multivariable logistic regression, we examined the associations between abuse and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, adjusting for sociodemographic and mental health covariates.
Results: In the past 12 months, 12.56% of the sample reported suicidal ideation, 5.70% reported making a suicide plan, and 1.28% reported making a suicide attempt. Over a third of the sample reported at least one type of abuse over the past 12 months. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were all associated with greater odds of all suicide outcomes, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and mental health. Endorsing multiple types of abuses was associated with greater odds of suicide outcomes in a dose-response fashion.
Limitations: Data were cross-sectional and the response rate for this survey was 16%.
Conclusions: Universities can implement a multi-pronged approach that covers screening for types of abuse, initiating awareness campaigns around abuse and suicide, and training faculty and staff to make appropriate referrals. Student services must also be equipped to address students who perpetrate abuse.