Child abuse increases the risk of suicidal behavior in adolescents


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A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine reveals that child abuse increases certain risk factors that are key to suicidal behavior in adolescents.

Research has found that people who have experienced child abuse are more likely to exhibit personality traits related to intense anger, impulsivity, and emotional deregulation. They also tend to experience more stressful situations in their life. These new stressors and emotional deregulation would be the factors that could lead to suicidal behavior in adolescents.

The study was led by Professor Lourdes Fañanás, of the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, ​​of the Institute of Biomedicine of UB (IBUB) and of the Center for Biomedical Research in Mental Health Network (CIBERSAM ). The researcher Laia Marques-Feixa, also a member of these institutions, is the first author of the article.

The link between suicide and child abuse

In Spain, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people. Although adult suicide has a higher prevalence in men than in women, women have more suicide attempts and non-suicidal attempts (self-harm) than men. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of hospitalizations of women aged 12 to 18 with self-injurious behaviors increased.

The study analyzed 187 children and adolescents between the ages of seven and seventeen, with and without mental disorders. The researchers focused on their experiences of child abuse, recent stressful life episodes, certain personality traits, and the risk of suicidal behavior.

“Adolescence is a time of great emotional vulnerability and 70% of mental disorders are estimated to occur during this period,” noted Professor Lourdes Fañanás, member of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences. UB and Principal Investigator at the University of California. CIBERSAM Group. “The brain of an adolescent undergoes a process of maturation and this process could involve difficulties in self-control and higher impulsivity and emotional instability, which are decisive elements for developing certain risky behaviors.”

“It is also a period full of changes (family dynamics, new groups with classmates, new challenges and activities, etc.) which can lead to an increase in stressful situations for young people.

Laia Marques-Feixa (UB-IBUB-CIBERSAM) added that “when there is relationship trauma during childhood – for example, psychological, physical or sexual abuse or neglect, three primary developmental abilities may be impaired. : emotional regulation, identity and interpersonal relationships. kinship. If we reach adolescence without having a good consolidated base in these skills, this person may have more difficulties due to the lack of solid psychological resources to face the challenges, conflicts and daily difficulties that arise during our life.

Teenage suicide

The study did not establish a direct link between child abuse and the possibility of expressing suicidal behavior in young adults. However, the findings indicated that child abuse increases risk factors leading to suicidal behaviors in adolescents.

“Our research shows that to reduce suicidal behavior in adolescents, we need to work on strategies for regulating emotions, as well as reducing potential exposure to new stressful events (change of household, fights, suspension from school, etc. etc.), especially with regard to people with a history of child abuse, ”noted Laia Marques-Feixa.

Adolescence being the period when the foundations of our personality are built, it is difficult to make a diagnosis of these disorders in young people. “In addition, there are common traits between different personality disorders, and this condition makes it more difficult for us to make a specific diagnosis,” said expert Jorgue Moya-Higueras, from the University of Lleida and the CIBERSAM.

“This is why approaching this issue from a more dimensional perspective – with transdiagnostic personality traits over a continuous period of time, such as emotional deregulation – may be a more useful strategy than categorical classification (disorder present or not here). “

Need for more investment in public health

Currently, the SURVIVE consortium is promoted by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) of the European Union, the Carlos III Health Institute and the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities. The aim of the initiative is to study the incidence of suicide, assess risk factors and design intervention and prevention strategies.

The researchers noted that the first step to preventing suicidal behavior “would be to invest more money in prevention, especially when it comes to the young population.” This means that we must support families so that these children can grow up in a healthy and safe atmosphere. “

In addition, experts have stressed the importance of proper detection and early intervention in children and adolescents who present with emotional or behavioral difficulties. Although there is a code for suicidal risk, public health care should offer a wide network of professionals, services and resources to help as soon as possible. “Since most people who exhibit suicidal behavior have an associated mental disorder, the most important thing to get started with should be this,” the experts said.

Despite the strong population demand for these services in recent years, the ratio of public mental health professionals in Spain is only six per 100,000 people. These figures are tripling in Europe. “Therefore, to fill this shameful deficit, we should start by investing in mental health, especially in children and adolescents, from the various services of health, education, justice, etc. », Concluded the research team.

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