Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm. Systematic review

Br J Psychiatry. 2002 Sep:181:193-9. doi: 10.1192/bjp.181.3.193.


Background: Non-fatal self-harm frequently leads to non-fatal repetition and sometimes to suicide. We need to quantify these two outcomes of self-harm to help us to develop and test effective interventions.

Aims: To estimate rates of fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm.

Method: A systematic review of published follow-up data, from observational and experimental studies. Four electronic databases were searched and 90 studies met the inclusion criteria.

Results: Eighty per cent of studies found were undertaken in Europe, over one-third in the UK. Median proportions for repetition 1 year later were: 16% non-fatal and 2% fatal; after more than 9 years, around 7% of patients had died by suicide. The UK studies found particularly low rates of subsequent suicide.

Conclusions: After 1 year, non-fatal repetition rates are around 15%. The strong connection between self-harm and later suicide lies somewhere between 0.5% and 2% after 1 year and above 5% after 9 years. Suicide risk among self-harm patients is hundreds of times higher than in the general population.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / complications*
  • Suicide*
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom