The social norms of suicidal and self-harming behaviours in Scottish adolescents

Quigley, Jody and Rasmussen, Susan and McAlaney, John (2017) The social norms of suicidal and self-harming behaviours in Scottish adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14 (3). 307. ISSN 1660-4601 (

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Although the suicidal and self-harming behaviour of individuals is often associated with similar behaviours in people they know, little is known about the impact of perceived social norms on those behaviours. In a range of other behavioural domains (e.g., alcohol consumption, smoking, eating behaviours) perceived social norms have been found to strongly predict individuals’ engagement in those behaviours, although discrepancies often exist between perceived and reported norms. Interventions which align perceived norms more closely with reported norms have been effective in reducing damaging behaviours. The current study aimed to explore whether the Social Norms Approach is applicable to suicidal and self-harming behaviours in adolescents. Participants were 456 pupils from five Scottish high-schools (53% female, mean age = 14.98 years), who completed anonymous, cross-sectional surveys examining reported and perceived norms around suicidal and self-harming behaviour. Friedman’s ANOVA with post-hoc Wilcoxen signed-ranks tests indicated that proximal groups were perceived as less likely to engage in or be permissive of suicidal and self-harming behaviours than participants’ reported themselves, whilst distal groups tended towards being perceived as more likely to do so. Binary logistic regression analyses identified a number of perceived norms associated with reported norms, with close friends’ norms positively associated with all outcome variables. The Social Norms Approach may be applicable to suicidal and self-harming behaviour, but associations between perceived and reported norms and predictors of reported norms differ to those found in other behavioural domains. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are considered.