Published November 2019 | Child Abuse & Neglect

Asking young, low-income mothers about prior suicide attempts and maltreatment during their own childhoods can serve as key indicators of the need for additional support and mental health treatment to prevent future suicides and to address underlying major depressive disorders (MDD).

Data from a clinical and psychological examination of 170 low-income, young, depressed mothers evolved from Every Child Succeeds’ (ECS) in-home treatment program for postpartum depression. Published November 2019 in Child Abuse & Neglect, the study focused on suicide risks and histories of childhood maltreatment trauma, both of which are key predictors of suicide in this vulnerable population.

“Results showed that mothers with prior suicide attempts had increased levels of childhood maltreatment experiences,” says Robert T. Ammerman, PhD, ABPP, scientific director of ECS. Among postpartum mothers generally, 20% of deaths are linked to suicide, a cause of death that ranks second among all deaths of 10-24-year-olds and has risen by 2% annually from 2006-2014.

Among the subjects in the study, 31.8% of mothers with MDD reported previous suicide attempts, with an average age of 14 for the first attempt and two lifetime attempts. Mothers with more suicide attempts had more MDD symptoms, overall more MDD episodes and earlier age of their first depressive episode. A previous suicide attempt was associated with greater childhood trauma, more current MDD symptoms, and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); no association was found for intimate partner violence.

“Conducting community-based research is difficult,” Ammerman notes. “The mothers who participated in the study are often overlooked in research because they are difficult to engage in the research process. From the perspective of equity and representation, it is important that we seek to involve underserved mothers in research studies to ensure that their concerns and needs are adequately considered and addressed.”

Logistic Regression Predicting Suicide Attempt Group Membership