To investigate the associations of childhood adversities (CAs) with lifetime onset and transitions across suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB) among incoming college students.
Web-based self-report surveys administered to 20,842 incoming college students from nine countries (response rate 45.6%) assessed lifetime suicidal ideation, plans and attempts along with seven CAs: parental psychopathology, three types of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual), neglect, bully victimization, and dating violence. Logistic regression estimated individual- and population-level associations using CA operationalizations for type, number, severity, and frequency.
Associations of CAs with lifetime ideation and the transition from ideation to plan were best explained by the exact number of CA types (OR range 1.32–52.30 for exactly two to seven CAs). Associations of CAs with a transition to attempts were best explained by the frequency of specific CA types (scaled 0–4). Attempts among ideators with a plan were significantly associated with all seven CAs (OR range 1.16–1.59) and associations remained significant in adjusted analyses with the frequency of sexual abuse (OR = 1.42), dating violence (OR = 1.29), physical abuse (OR = 1.17) and bully victimization (OR = 1.17). Attempts among ideators without plan were significantly associated with frequency of emotional abuse (OR = 1.29) and bully victimization (OR = 1.36), in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses. Population attributable risk simulations found 63% of ideation and 30–47% of STB transitions associated with CAs.
Early-life adversities represent a potentially important driver in explaining lifetime STB among incoming college students. Comprehensive intervention strategies that prevent or reduce the negative effects of CAs may reduce subsequent onset of STB.