The Relationship Between Mental Pain, Suicide Risk, and Childhood Traumatic Experiences: Results From a Multicenter Study


Objective: Mental pain and exposure to maltreatment are significant risk factors for suicidal behavior. This study aimed to investigate whether mental pain could be associated with a recent suicide attempt and whether it could mediate the relationship between childhood traumatic experiences and suicide risk in psychiatric patients.

Methods: A multicenter observational study was organized as a joint project with representatives of numerous mixed Italian academic and clinical settings. Between December 2017 and March 2020, batteries of tests were administered to patients, assessing suicidal ideation and behavior, mental pain (usual and worst mental pain in the past 15 days), depression, and childhood maltreatment.

Results: A total of 2,137 psychiatric patients (1,313 women and 824 men) were included in the final sample, and 315 reported having attempted suicide in the last 3 months. Suicide attempters (compared to nonattempters) had higher odds of reporting worse mental pain (odds ratios [ORs] between 1.02 and 1.17; P < .001) and suicidal intent with/without a specific plan (ORs between 11.57 and 11.77; P < .001). They also had higher odds of having a personality disorder (borderline personality disorder: ORs between 2.65 and 3.01; P < .001; other personality disorders: ORs between 1.96 and 2.28; P < .01) and major depression (ORs between 1.62 and 1.70; P < .05). Childhood trauma was associated with suicide risk directly (standardized effects between 0.06 and 0.07; P < .01) and indirectly through mental pain (usual mental pain: standardized indirect effect = 0.11, P < .001; worst mental pain in the past 15 days: standardized indirect effect = 0.12, P < .001).

Conclusions: Mental pain constitutes a crucial framework for assessing the individual need for psychiatric help. Assessing mental pain allows identification of the main ingredient of suicide risk and puts the clinician in a strategic position to unlock some motives behind the wish to die. Further research is needed to learn if childhood adversities may interact with adult mental pain and thus foster suicide risk.

Volume: 83

Quick Links: Depression (MDD) , Suicide

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