The Associations of Physical and Sexual Assault with Suicide Risk in Nonclinical Military and Undergraduate Samples


  • The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position or policies of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force. This study was partially supported by a pilot grant from the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (#130421) to Craig J. Bryan and Mary McNaughton-Cassill. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of Lt. Col. Julia Sundstrom, without whom the current study would not be possible.

Address correspondence to C. J. Bryan, National Center for Veterans Studies, The University of Utah, 260 S. Central Campus Dr., Room 205, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA; E-mail:


The associations of various forms of sexual and physical assault with a history of suicide attempts and recent suicide ideation were studied in two distinct samples: active duty military and undergraduate students. A total of 273 active duty Air Force personnel and 309 undergraduate students anonymously completed self-report surveys of assault victimization, emotional distress, belongingness, recent suicide ideation, and previous suicide attempts. Among military personnel, rape, robbery, or violent assault was associated with a nonsignificant trend toward increased risk for suicide attempts, whereas physical abuse or battering as an adult was significantly associated with recent suicide ideation. Among undergraduates, unwanted sexual experiences as an adult and physical or sexual abuse as a child were significantly associated with increased risk for suicide attempt, but only unwanted experiences as an adult was significantly associated with increased risk for suicide ideation. Experiencing multiple forms of assault increased risk for suicide attempts and ideation in both groups. Results suggest that different types of assault contribute differentially to suicide risk in military versus undergraduate populations, but experiencing multiple types of assault is associated with increased risk in both groups.