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Why do adolescents self-harm? An investigation of motives in a community sample

Rasmussen, Susan and Hawton, Keith and Philpott-Morgan, Sion and O'Connor, Rory (2016) Why do adolescents self-harm? An investigation of motives in a community sample. Crisis - The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. ISSN 0227-5910

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    Abstract

    Given the high rates of self-harm among adolescents, recent research has focussed on a better understanding of the motives for the behaviour. The present study had three aims: to investigate (i) which motives are most frequently endorsed by adolescents who report self-harm; (ii) whether motives reported at baseline predict repetition of self-harm over a 6 month period; and (iii) whether self- harm motives differ between boys and girls. 987 school pupils aged 14-16 years completed a lifestyle and coping questionnaire at two time points 6 months apart that recorded self-harm and the associated motives. The motive "to get relief from a terrible state of mind" was the most commonly endorsed reason for self-harm (in boys and girls). Interpersonal reasons (e.g. "to frighten someone") were least commonly endorsed. Regression analyses showed that adolescents who endorsed "wanting to get relief from a terrible state of mind" at baseline were significantly more likely to repeat self-harm at follow-up than those adolescents who did not cite this motive. The results highlight the complex nature of self-harm. They have implications for mental health provision in educational settings, especially in relation to encouraging regulation of emotions and help-seeking.