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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Emotional Violence in Childhood and Adolescence Associated with Suicidal Thoughts in Haiti, Kenya and Tanzania

Early exposure to emotional violence was consistently and significantly associated with suicide ideation across multiple countries, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers reviewed national data drawn from 9,300 adolescents and young adults aged 13-24 in the Violence Against Children Surveys, a collaborative effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, country governments and other bilateral and multilateral organizations. The surveys collected detailed information on young people’s experiences with physical, emotional, and sexual violence, as well as their mental health and well-being in Haiti, Kenya and Tanzania.

Questions about emotional violence included whether adults had ever threatened to abandon respondents, made them feel unwanted, or humiliated them in front of others.  Researchers found an association between youth with those experiences and those who considered suicide.

“We find there exists a significant relationship between exposure to emotional violence and suicide ideation for both males and females in all countries in the sample,” wrote senior author Dr. Lindsay Stark, associate professor at the Brown School. “No other form of child maltreatment was found to be associated with suicide ideation in more than one country, suggesting that emotional violence may actually be more powerful than physical and sexual abuse in its impact on adolescent suicide behaviors in low- and middle-income countries.”

The analysis suggests that mental health practitioners should target those with a history of emotional abuse for secondary suicide prevention programs.

The study was published in the May issue of Child Abuse & Neglect.

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