The Relationship between domestic abuse and links to suicide

Domestic abuse is a widespread problem that has far reaching and grave consequences. To date, very little systematic data have been gathered on the relationship between domestic abuse and victim suicide.

To address this gap, we conducted three strands of research, including: 1) Rapid evidence review. The review examined the long- and short-term causes, drivers and aggravating factors of domestic abuse (e.g., physical, emotional, psychological, financial) related suicide, to deliver a strong evidence base for identifying risk factors. 2) Fieldwork. A qualitative study with domestic abuse victims was conducted to better understand the relationship between domestic abuse and risk factors for suicide. 3) Quantitative evaluation. A quantitative study of domestic abuse incidents and suicide to better understand how the incidence of suicide differs amongst the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, and how this is correlated with its form.

Based on our results, we recommend the creation and testing of an assessment tool that aims to identify the predictors of suicide by gathering information from the survivor. Administration of the tool should include gathering information from whether they have experienced life-threatening abuse; sexual assault/rape, coercion and control; multiple abuses and repetition of abuse, as well as information about their feeling states, including feelings of despair, hopelessness and burdensomeness/ isolation/self-hatred. The tool should also take into account the effects of the abuse on the survivor’s self-identity, such as the number of relationships which have been disrupted or terminated. This should also elicit information about a survivor’s perceptions of/relationship with the police (and health services) and may assist in building trust; and any previous or childhood experiences which were trauma or terror-inducing, such as, some form of abuse, disaster (e.g., house fire), accident or medical procedure. Further information should be gathered about the survivor’s coping strategies, such as whether they are using self-harm and/or alcohol and drugs to cope. We also recommend the development of guidelines for police forces and health services to introduce and maintain a domestic abuse survivor suicide prevention/welfare pathway, with local statutory and VCS partners.

The framework should contain the information in this report, and any other/up-dated information about how domestic abuse dismantles the survivor’s identity and the link with suicide translated into operational understanding and practice. Additionally, we recommend that a small amount of additional funding is made available to explore the information collected in this research about the contact survivors have had with services other than the police and health services (e.g. children’s social care, schools, housing, immigration services, the Family courts and voluntary and community sector services). Moreover, more nuanced research needs to be undertaken to track the trajectory from abuse to suicidality and, in the process, to differentiate suicide ideation from suicidality. The research should incorporate evaluation of any of the above pilot activities. Finally, given that the quantitative analysis highlights the high rate of suicide amongst male perpetrators of domestic violence, further research is necessary to better understand this relationship and how it is affected by socio-economic factors, mental health, and substance abuse. 

Read the report