The situation of former adolescent self-injurers as young adults: a follow-up study

Rebecca C Groschwitz, Paul L Plener, Michael Kaess, Teresa Schumacher, Ramona Stoehr, Isabel Boege
BMC Psychiatry 2015, 15: 160

BACKGROUND: Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) in adolescence has been described as comorbid condition in affective or anxiety disorders, as well as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and is a risk factor for later suicide attempts. Prevalence rates of NSSI decline steeply from adolescence to young adulthood. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, the longitudinal development of adolescent psychiatric patients with NSSI into their young adulthood has not been investigated. The aim of this study was to assess current NSSI and psychological impairment of young adults, who had been in treatment for NSSI in their adolescence.

METHODS: Former patients of the departments of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy in Ulm and Ravensburg, Germany (N = 52), who presented with NSSI in their adolescence, were recruited (average age: 21.5 years (SD = 2.6)). Data was assessed using questionnaires and structured clinical interviews. Two groups of participants with prevailing NSSI and ceased NSSI were compared concerning their current psychological impairment, history of NSSI, suicide attempts, and BPD diagnosis.

RESULTS: Around half of all participants had engaged in NSSI within the last year, and around half met diagnostic criteria for BPD. Although there was no significant association between current NSSI and BPD, an earlier age of onset of NSSI and a longer duration of NSSI during adolescence was significantly predictive of adult BPD. Two thirds of participants still met criteria of an axis 1 psychiatric disorder. Suicide attempts were reported by 53.8 % of all participants. Participants with current NSSI were more likely to meet criteria for a current axis 1 disorder, had engaged in NSSI more often in their lifetime, and reported more suicide attempts.

CONCLUSIONS: Reduction of NSSI from adolescence to young adulthood was lower than described in previous community samples. This may be due to the initial high psychiatric impairment of this sample in adolescence. Early onset of NSSI seemed to be a risk factor for a longer duration of NSSI during adolescence but not for NSSI prevailing into adulthood. However, it was a risk factor for adult BPD. Furthermore, the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and prevailing NSSI was highly associated.

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