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Adolescent self-harm in a school-based population : prevalence and correlates Laye, Aviva M.


A paucity of research exists that has examined self-harming behaviour within the nonclinical adolescent population, despite evidence that it is a significant problem that typically originates during this age period (Ross & Heath, 2002; Simeon & Favazza, 2001; van der Kolk, Perry, & Herman, 1991). The present investigation sought to extend previous research, which has primarily focused on self-harm in clinical populations, by examining self-harm in a general school-based adolescent population. More specifically, the current study was designed to: (a) identify the prevalence of overall self-harm and subtypes; (b) explore the nature and subjective experience of self-harm using adolescents' conceptualizations of the behaviour; (c) elucidate the underlying motivations for self-harming; and, (d) evaluate the relation of psychological adjustment, sociodemographic, and health risk variables to self-harming behaviour. To this end, adolescents (N = 424) in grades 9 and 11 completed self-report questionnaires assessing selfharm, psychological adjustment, social desirability, health behaviours, background information, and suicide history. Results revealed that almost half of the adolescents in the present investigation reported self-harm ideation. Further, 15% of adolescents reported engaging in some form of self-harming behaviour, with more females than males reporting doing so. Types of self-harm reported included: cutting-type behaviours, self-battery (i.e., hitting, biting), pill abuse/misuse, eating disordered behaviour, reckless and suicidal-type behaviour, and bonebreaking/falling/jumping. Significant overlap was noted between suicide and self-harm. Results supported, in part, that self-harm functions as a coping mechanism. For instance, adolescents' descriptions of affect revealed that negative emotions, frequently reported prior to self-harming, were reduced through harming, whereas relief and self-conscious emotions (i.e., shame, guilt) increased following an incident of self-harm. Most frequently nominated motivations for self-harm included: depression, loneliness, feelings of failure, self-dislike, anger, and distraction. These findings suggest that self-harm may function as an effective form of affect regulation in response to negative emotions. Results also revealed that motivations that underlie self-harming behaviour differ by gender. Results indicated that anger discomfort and both internalizing and externalizing dimensions of psychological adjustment were significantly associated with self-harm, as hypothesized. Moreover, these relations occurred across genders and were sustained even when social desirability was controlled. Results from logistic regression analyses indicated that suicidal ideation, risky behaviours, antisocial behaviour, and emotional distress were significant in a predictor model of self-harm. Implications for prevention and intervention efforts and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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