Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 146–172 | Cite as

The Relation Between Child Maltreatment and Adolescent Suicidal Behavior: A Systematic Review and Critical Examination of the Literature

  • Adam B. MillerEmail author
  • Christianne Esposito-Smythers
  • Julie T. Weismoore
  • Keith D. Renshaw


A large body of research suggests that child maltreatment (CM) is associated with adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts. These studies, however, have not been critically examined and summarized in a manner that allows us to draw firm conclusions and make recommendations for future research and clinical work in this area. In this review, we evaluated all of the research literature to date examining the relationship between CM and adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts. Results generally suggest that childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect are associated with adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts across community, clinical, and high-risk samples, using cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs. In most studies, these associations remain significant when controlling for covariates such as youth demographics, mental health, family, and peer-related variables. When different forms of CM are examined in the same multivariate analysis, most research suggests that each form of CM maintains an independent association with adolescent suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. However, a subset of studies yielded evidence to suggest that sexual abuse and emotional abuse may be relatively more important in explaining suicidal behavior than physical abuse or neglect. Research also suggests an additive effect—each form of CM contributes unique variance to adolescent suicide attempts. We discuss the current limitations of this literature and offer recommendations for future research. We conclude with an overview of the clinical implications of this research, including careful, detailed screening of CM history, past suicidal behavior, and current suicidal ideation, as well as the need for integrated treatment approaches that effectively address both CM and adolescent suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.


Adolescence Suicide ideation Suicide attempts Child maltreatment 



The authors would like to thank Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D. for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this draft. This research was supported in part by a federal grant awarded to Dr. Christianne Esposito-Smythers (R01AA016854). This research was supported in part by NIAAA grant R01AA016854-04 Alcohol, Suicide & HIV Prevention of Teens in Mental Health Treatment, awarded to the second author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam B. Miller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christianne Esposito-Smythers
    • 1
  • Julie T. Weismoore
    • 1
  • Keith D. Renshaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, MS 3F5George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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