Nonsuicidal self-harm in youth: a population-based survey

Nixon, Mary K.; Cloutier, Paula; Jansson, S. Mikael
January 2008
CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal;1/29/2008, Vol. 178 Issue 3, p306
Academic Journal
Background: Nonsuicidal self-harm includes cutting, scratching, burning and minor overdosing. There have been few studies that have examined the rate of self-harm and mental-health correlates among community-based youth. We performed a population-based study to determine the prevalence of nonsuicidal self-harm, its mental-health correlates and help-seeking behaviour. Methods: We used data from the Victoria Healthy Youth Survey, a population-based longitudinal survey of youth aged 14-21 in Victoria, British Columbia. The survey included questions about the history, method, frequency, age of onset and help-seeking for nonsuicidal self-harm. Youth were interviewed between February and June 2005. Univariable group differences were analyzed using students t test for continuous data and χ2 for binary or categorical data. Multivariate analyses were conducted by use of multivariate analysis of variance and logistic regression. Results: Ninety-six of 568 (16.9%) youth indicated that they had ever harmed themselves. Self-injuries such as cutting, scratching and self-hitting were the most common forms of nonsuicidal self-harm (83.2%). The mean age of onset was 15.2 years. Of those who reported nonsuicidal self-harm, 56% had sought help for this behaviour. Participants who reported 5 or more symptoms (out of 6) in a given symptom category were more likely than those who reported less than 5 symptoms to report nonsuicidal selfharm for the following categories: depressive mood (odds ratio [OR] 2.18, confidence interval [CI] 1.28-3.7) and problems with regulation of attention, impulsivity and activity (OR 2.24, CI 1.33-3.76). Interpretation: We found a high lifetime prevalence of nonsuicidal self-harm. Many mental-health symptoms were associated with this behaviour, particularly those with depressive mood and attention-related problems. Just over half of youth reported seeking help for nonsuicidal selfharm. Clinicians who encounter youth should be vigilant to assess for this behaviour in youth who present with mental health issues.


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