Research examining links between lifetime trauma and suicide attempts in older clients with severe mental illness (SMI) is scarce. We examined associations among six common forms of lifetime trauma and lifetime suicide attempts while controlling for other known correlates of suicide attempts including gender, psychiatric symptoms, thoughts of self-harm/suicide, and lifetime self-injury in 174 community mental health clients with severe mental illness who were 50 years of age or older. Almost all clients reported at least one traumatic event with a mean of twelve, more than half had attempted suicide at least once, and about one-third had made multiple suicide attempts. Regression revealed that four factors were significantly associated with lifetime suicide attempts: lifetime self-injurious behaviors, lifetime physical abuse, lifetime frequency of having witnessed severe violence, and lifetime homelessness. Lifetime self-injury accounted for the most variance in suicide attempts, but having been physically abused accounted for the most variance in suicide attempts among the six trauma items. Lifetime trauma should be carefully screened in older clients with severe mental illness given preliminary evidence that it might be linked to suicide risk. Limitations of this study include the cross-sectional design.

Thomas O’Hare , PhD, Ce Shen , PhD & Margaret Sherrer , PhD
Social Work in Mental Health, Volume 16, 2018 – Issue 5