Suicide attempt is the most predictive risk factor of suicide. Trauma – especially sexual abuse – is a risk factor for suicide attempt and suicide. A common reaction to sexual abuse is dissociation. Higher levels of dissociation are linked to self-harm, suicide ideation, and suicide attempt, but the role of dissociation in suicidal behavior is unclear.
In this naturalistic study, ninety-seven acute psychiatric patients with suicidal ideation, of whom 32 had experienced sexual abuse, were included. Suicidal behaviour was assessed with The Columbia suicide history form (CSHF). The Brief trauma questionnaire (BTQ) was used to identify sexual abuse. Dissociative symptoms were assessed with Dissociative experiences scale (DES).
Patients who had experienced sexual abuse reported higher levels of dissociation and were younger at onset of suicidal thoughts, more likely to self-harm, and more likely to have attempted suicide; and they had made more suicide attempts. Mediation analysis found dissociative experiences to significantly mediate a substantive proportion of the relationship between sexual abuse and number of suicide attempts (indirect effects = 0.17, 95% CI = 0.05, 0.28, proportion mediated = 68%). Dissociative experiences significantly mediated the role of sexual abuse as a predictor of being in the patient group with more than four suicide attempts (indirect effects = 0.11, 95% CI = 0.02, 0.19, proportion mediated = 34%).
The results illustrate the importance of assessment and treatment of sexual abuse and trauma-related symptoms such as dissociation in suicide prevention. Dissociation can be a contributing factor to why some people act on their suicidal thoughts.