Objective: To test the hypothesis that self-injurious behavior (SIB) signals an attempt to cope with psychological distress that may co-occur or lead to suicidal behaviors in individuals experiencing more duress than they can effectively mitigate.
Design: Analysis of a cross-sectional data set of college-age students.
Setting: Two universities in the northeastern United States in the spring of 2005.
Participants: A random sample of 8300 students was invited to participate in a Web-based survey; 3069 (37.0%) responded. Cases in which a majority of the responses were missing or in which SIB or suicide status was indeterminable were omitted, resulting in 2875 usable cases. Exposure Self-injurious behavior.
Main outcome measures: Main outcome was suicidality; adjusted odds ratios (AORs) for suicidality by SIB status when demographic characteristics, history of trauma, distress, informal help-seeking, and attraction to life are considered.
Results: One quarter of the sample reported SIB, suicidality, or both; 40.3% of those reporting SIB also report suicidality. Self-injurious behavior status was predictive of suicidality when controlling for demographic variables (AOR, 6.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 4.9-7.8). Addition of trauma and distress variables attenuated this relationship (AOR, 3.7; 95% CI, 2.7-4.9). Compared with respondents reporting only suicidality, those also reporting SIB were more likely to report suicide ideation (AOR, 2.8; 95% CI, 2.0-3.8), plan (AOR, 5.6; 95% CI, 3.9-7.9), gesture (AOR, 7.3; 95% CI, 3.4-15.8), and attempt (AOR, 9.6; 95% CI, 5.4-17.1). Lifetime SIB frequency exhibits a curvilinear relationship to suicidality.
Conclusions: Since it is well established that SIB is not a suicidal gesture, many clinicians assume that suicide assessment is unnecessary. Our findings suggest that the presence of SIB should trigger suicide assessment.