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Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse Predicts Suicide Risk in a Large Cohort of Veterans

Maju Mathew Koola, MD; Anthony O. Ahmed, PhD; Joseph Sebastian, MD; and Erica J. Duncan, MD

Published: August 23, 2018

Article Abstract

Objective: To examine whether childhood physical and sexual abuse is a significant predictor of suicide risk in veterans.

Methods: This study was a retrospective chart review of 4,709 patients admitted to a psychiatric ward (August 2004 through July 2014) at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). Sociodemographic and clinical data and history of childhood (aged 18 years) physical and sexual abuse were obtained from the patients’ electronic health records. Suicide risk data of patients who attempted and completed suicide were obtained from the Atlanta VAMC suicide high-risk team. Binary logistic regressions with maximum likelihood estimation method were used to examine the association of demographic (age, sex, marital status, race, service) and clinical (psychiatric diagnoses, number of hospital admissions, and length of stay) variables and childhood physical and sexual abuse and type with suicide behavior.

Results: The combination of childhood physical and sexual abuse, number of admissions to a psychiatric inpatient unit, and major depressive disorder (MDD) were the best predictors of enhanced suicide risk (P < .001). This combination accounted for 9.9% variance in suicide risk and correctly classified 83% of cases into respective suicide versus nonsuicide risk groups. Additional significant predictors were bipolar disorder (P < .001) and cocaine use disorder (P = .02). Surprisingly, diagnosis of schizophrenia predicted a reduced risk.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this study is the first to shed light on the interaction of childhood physical and sexual abuse and suicide risk in a large cohort of veterans. In the final model, childhood physical and sexual abuse, number of psychiatric admissions, and MDD were the best predictors of increased suicide risk. Schizophrenia was a protective factor in this veteran cohort.

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