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Reasons for Deliberate Self-Harm: Comparison of Self-Poisoners and Self-Cutters in a Community Sample of Adolescents

NCJ Number
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Volume: 43 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2004 Pages: 80-87
Karen Rodham Ph.D.; Keith Hawton D.Sc.; Emma Evans B.Sc.
Date Published
January 2004
8 pages
This article compares motives and premeditation between adolescent deliberate self-poisoners and self-cutters.
Previous investigations of the motives for deliberate self-harm in adolescents have focused only on those that have taken overdoses and been admitted to the hospital, excluding a substantial proportion of the self-harming population. The goals of this study were to examine the motives of a group of adolescent self-harmers from a community sample, to compare the motives of those that engaged in self-poisoning with those that chose self-cutting, to examine the premeditation involved, and to investigate gender differences. In a sample of 6,020 students aged 15 and 16 years that completed a self-report questionnaire, those that had deliberately cut themselves in the previous year were compared with those that had taken overdoses. For adolescents that have harmed themselves, the reasons most frequently endorsed by the adolescents in this study suggested that many used deliberate self-harm to cope with distress. Substantial proportions of both the self-poisoners and the self-cutters said they had wished to die. There are some differences in the reasons adolescents engage in self-cutting compared to self-poisoning. More self-poisoners compared to self-cutters indicated that they wanted to die, both spontaneously and in response to a list of eight reasons, which included punishing themselves, getting attention, and frightening someone. The less frequent choice by self-cutters of the “wanted to die” motive was in keeping with deliberate self-cutting often being associated with tension reduction. Self-cutters were more likely to have spent less than an hour planning their self-harm episode compared to self-poisoners. There were no major differences between the male and female self-poisoners in reasons to explain their self-harm episodes. Among those engaging in self-cutting, females were more likely to say that they had done so because they wanted to punish themselves and because they wanted to get relief from a terrible state of mind. The results suggest that there are gender differences in the motivation for self-cutting. 4 tables, 36 references


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