Population attributable fractions of psychopathology and suicidal behaviour associated with childhood adversities in Northern Ireland

Margaret McLafferty, Siobhan O'Neill*, Sam Murphy, Cherie Armour, Brendan Bunting

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Childhood adversities are strong predictors of psychopathology and suicidality. However, specific adversities are associated with different outcomes, with cross-national variations reported. The current study examined rates of adversities reported in Northern Ireland (NI), and associations between adverse childhood experiences and psychopathology and suicidal behaviour were explored. Data was obtained from the Northern Ireland Study of Health and Stress (NISHS), conducted as part of the World Mental Health (WMH) survey initiative (2004–2008); response rate 68.4% (n = 1,986). The on-line survey used, the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) to examine psychopathology and associated risk factors in the NI population. Prevalence rates of retrospectively reported childhood adversities were calculated, with gender and age variations explored. Females were more likely to experience sexual abuse. Individuals who grew up during the worst years of the civil conflict in NI experienced elevated levels of childhood adversities. Participants who endured childhood adversities were more likely to have mental health problems but variations in risk factors were found for different disorders. Parental mental illness was associated with all disorders however, with ORs ranging from 2.20 for mood disorders to 4.07 for anxiety disorders. Population attributable fractions (PAF) estimated the reduction in psychopathology and suicidal behaviour in the population if exposure to adverse childhood events had not occurred. The highest PAF values were revealed for parental mental illness and sexual abuse. The findings indicate that a substantial proportion of psychopathology and suicide risk in NI are attributable to childhood adversities, providing support for early intervention and prevention initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Early online date30 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Childhood adversity
  • Northern Ireland
  • Psychopathology
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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