Previous studies demonstrated positive relations between various forms of maltreatment and suicidal ideation; however, mechanisms underlying these relationships are not well understood. We propose that the experience of maltreatment in childhood may lead to high levels of generalized guilt and shame, resulting in an increase of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts in adolescents. The aim of our study was to test our model of relations between these constructs using path analysis.
112 inpatient adolescents aged 12-17 years completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire to measure various types of maltreatment, the Personal Feelings Questionnaire to evaluate generalized guilt and shame, the Beck Depression Inventory-II to assess depressive symptoms, and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale to assess suicidal ideation.
Findings partly confirmed the theoretical model. Indirect positive effects of sexual and emotional abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect on suicidal ideation via generalized self-conscious emotion and/or depression were demonstrated. In contrast to our predictions, indirect negative effects of physical abuse on suicidal thoughts via generalized guilt and shame and depression were found.
Sample characterized by predominately Caucasian inpatient adolescents from financially stable and well-educated environments, over-reliance on self-report measures and the lack of a longitudinal design were main limitations of the study.
The study provides novel information on the potential mechanisms underlying the association between childhood maltreatment and suicidal ideation in adolescents. Generalized guilt and/or shame could be possible targets for interventions for victims of some forms of maltreatment to reduce depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation.