Abstract: Violence Exposure and Suicide Risk: Findings from a National Survey of Emerging Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Violence Exposure and Suicide Risk: Findings from a National Survey of Emerging Adults

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lisa Fedina, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Jordan DeVylder, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Fordham University, New York, NY
Todd Herrenkohl, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Cheryl King, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan
Research has shown that youth exposed to child maltreatment, bullying, and dating violence are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts, suicidal behaviors, and self-injury. Studies in adulthood demonstrate similar patterns, particularly for intimate partner violence victimization, as well as emerging evidence linking police violence exposures to suicidal behaviors; which suggests that state-sanctioned forms of violence, which has garnered significant national attention this past year, also increases suicide risk among adults in the US. However, studies have largely measured only single forms of violence, which can underestimate of the full burden of victimization or overestimate of the effects of a particular type of violence.

A cross-sectional, online survey was administered in January 2021 to adults ages 18-29, with oversampling of racial/ethnic groups (Black, Latinx, Indigenous) and LGBTQ groups (N = 1584). Outcome measures included past-year suicidal ideation, suicide planning, suicide attempt, and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) behaviors. Retrospective measures for childhood victimization included physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by a caregiver, teen dating/sexual violence, and youth bullying. Measures for adult victimization included physical, sexual, or psychological abuse by a romantic or intimate partner (IPV) since the age of 18 and lifetime physical, sexual, and psychological victimization by a police officer. Each form of violence was examined separately and as composite variable. Control variables included relevant demographics as well as frequency of alcohol, drug use, and delinquent behaviors.

In the model predicting suicidal ideation, participants with histories of caregiver abuse, youth bullying, and IPV in adulthood had increased odds of suicidal thoughts in the past year. In the model predicting suicide planning, there were fewer significant variables, with exceptions of IPV, such that those who experienced IPV in the past year were more likely to engage in suicide planning. Youth bullying approached significance in this model. In the model predicting suicide attempts, IPV and police violence were both significantly associated with increased odds for a suicide attempt in the past year. Similarly, those who experienced IPV and police violence were more likely to have engaged in NSSI in the past year. Violence exposure had a cumulative or additive effect on all 4 suicide-related outcomes.

Violence exposure has distinct and cumulative effects on risk for suicidal thoughts, planning, attempts, and NSSI among emerging adults. Practitioners should routinely screen for suicidal thoughts and planning behaviors among emerging adults who present with histories of caregiver abuse and youth bullying, and who may have histories of or are currently experiencing IPV in their romantic relationships. Findings also suggest the need for practitioners to consider the impacts of physical, sexual, and psychological victimization by police officers on suicide risk, as it appears that this form of violence has distinct impacts on mental health. Public health policies that address these forms of violence should target shared risk and protective factors against violence and suicide across the life span. Approaches that combine resources and prevention efforts across family, school, and community contexts can simultaneously prevent multiple forms of violence and suicide among high-risk groups.