Prevalence and psychological correlates of occasional and repetitive deliberate self-harm in adolescents

Romuald Brunner, Peter Parzer, Johann Haffner, Rainer Steen, Jeanette Roos, Martin Klett, Franz Resch
Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2007, 161 (7): 641-9

OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence and the associated psychological and social factors of occasional and repetitive deliberate self-harming behavior in adolescents.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional self-report survey.

SETTING: One hundred twenty-one schools in Germany.

PARTICIPANTS: A representative sample of 5759 ninth-grade students was studied between 2004 and 2005.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Deliberate self-harm (DSH) and suicidal behaviors, emotional and behavioral problems (Youth Self-Report), living standard, family composition, parental conflict and illness, school type and performance, relationship to peers, bullying, body satisfaction and dieting, media consumption, smoking, and alcohol and drug use.

RESULTS: Occasional forms of DSH within the previous year were reported by 10.9% of the ninth-grade students. Four percent of the students reported repetitive forms of DSH. Suicidal behavior was strongly associated with repetitive DSH, an association that held for both subtypes of DSH. The findings also indicated that social background factors were important concomitants of occasional DSH but were not related to an increased likelihood of repetitive DSH. Symptoms of depression/anxiety and delinquent/aggressive behavior were associated with self-harming behavior in both adolescent girls and boys.

CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that there is a link between social factors and occasional DSH and, especially in repetitive DSH, that there is a strong association between DSH and suicidal behavior as well as DSH and emotional and behavioral problems. These findings indicate a different pathway in the development of DSH in adolescents. The results support a need to investigate the possible neurobiological underpinnings of DSH within a longitudinal model to enhance the knowledge of this poorly understood behavior.

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