A comparison of adolescents engaging in self-injurious behaviors with and without suicidal intent: self-reported experiences of adverse life events and trauma symptoms

Maria Zetterqvist, Lars-Gunnar Lundh, Carl Göran Svedin
Journal of Youth and Adolescence 2013, 42 (8): 1257-72
Research comparing adolescents engaging in suicidal and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), both separately and in combination, is still at an early stage. The purpose of the present study was to examine overlapping and distinguishable features in groups with different types of self-injurious behaviors, using a large community sample of 2,964 (50.6% female) Swedish adolescents aged 15-17 years. Adolescents were grouped into six categories based on self-reported lifetime prevalence of self-injurious behaviors. Of the total sample, 1,651 (55.7%) adolescents reported no self-injurious behavior, 630 (21.2%) reported NSSI 1-4 times, 177 (6.0%) reported NSSI 5-10 times, 311 (10.5%) reported NSSI ≥ 11 times, 26 (0.9%) reported lifetime prevalence of suicide attempt and 169 (5.7%) adolescents reported both NSSI and suicide attempt. After controlling for gender, parental occupation and living conditions, there were significant differences between groups. Pairwise comparisons showed that adolescents with both NSSI and suicide attempt reported significantly more adverse life events and trauma symptoms than adolescents with only NSSI, regardless of NSSI frequency. The largest differences (effect sizes) were found for interpersonal negative events and for symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress. Adolescents with frequent NSSI reported more adversities and trauma symptoms than those with less frequent NSSI. There were also significant differences between all the NSSI groups and adolescents without any self-injurious behavior. These findings draw attention to the importance of considering the cumulative exposure of different types of adversities and trauma symptoms when describing self-injurious behaviors, with and without suicidal intent.

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