Reasons for deliberate self-harm: comparison of self-poisoners and self-cutters in a community sample of adolescents

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004 Jan;43(1):80-7. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200401000-00017.


Objective: To compare motives and premeditation between adolescent deliberate self-poisoners and self-cutters.

Method: In a sample of 6,020 pupils aged 15 and 16 years who completed a self-report questionnaire, those who had deliberately cut themselves in the previous year (n = 220) were compared with those who had taken overdoses (n = 86).

Results: More adolescents who took overdoses than those who cut themselves said that they had wanted to die (66.7% versus 40.2%, chi2 = 14.94, p <.0001) and had wanted to find out if someone loved them (41.2% versus 27.8%, chi2 = 4.14, p =.042). Female self-cutters were more likely than male self-cutters to say that they had wanted to punish themselves (51.0% versus 25.0%, chi2 = 9.25, p =.002) and had tried to get relief from a terrible state of mind (77.2% versus 60.9%, chi2 = 4.78, p =.029). More self-cutters than self-poisoners had thought about the act of self-harm for less than an hour beforehand (50.9% versus 36.1%, chi2 = 5.25, p =.021).

Conclusions: There are differences between adolescents' motives for overdoses and for self-cutting, and also gender differences in the reasons for self-cutting. The often impulsive nature of these acts (especially self-cutting) means that prevention should focus on encouraging alternative methods of managing distress, problem-solving, and help-seeking before thoughts of self-harm develop.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Drug Overdose / prevention & control
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / prevention & control
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*