Direct and indirect forms of non-suicidal self-injury: evidence for a distinction

Sarah A St Germain, Jill M Hooley
Psychiatry Research 2012 May 15, 197 (1): 78-84
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) involves deliberate acts (such as cutting) that directly damage the body but occur without suicidal intent. However, other non-suicidal behaviors that involve people mistreating or abusing themselves but that do not deliberately and directly damage bodily tissue may have much in common with NSSI. Such 'indirect' methods of self-injury might include involvement in abusive relationships, substance abuse, risky or reckless behavior, or eating disordered behavior. Using a community sample (N=156) we compared individuals engaging in NSSI (n=50), indirect (non-suicidal) self-injurers (n=38), and healthy controls (n=68) on a range of clinical and personality characteristics. As predicted, non-suicidal self-injurers and indirect self-injurers showed more pathology than healthy controls on all measures. Comparisons of the NSSI and the Indirect self-injury groups revealed no significant differences on measures of dissociation, aggression, impulsivity, self-esteem, negative temperament, depressive symptoms, and borderline personality disorder. However, compared to people who engaged only in indirect forms of self-injury, those who engaged in NSSI were more self-critical, had higher scores on a measure of suicide proneness, and had a history of more suicide attempts. The findings suggest that NSSI and indirect self-injury are best viewed as separate and distinct clinical phenomena.

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