Objective: Deliberate self-harm behavior--without suicidal intent--is a serious health problem and may be studied as a clinical phenomenon in its own right. Empirical studies of sociodemographic and psychological correlates and risk factors are systematically reviewed.
Methods: We searched Medline, PsycINFO, PSYNDEX (German psychological literature), and reference lists. We targeted self-induced bodily harm without conscious suicidal intent. Studies on suicidal behavior or self-poisoning were only included if they also assessed nonsuicidal self-harm.
Results: Fifty-nine original studies met the criteria. Deliberate self-harm may occur at all ages, yet adolescents and young adults are at a higher risk. Evidence on gender is complex. Only 5 studies realize a prospective design (6 months to 10 years) and test predictors. The majority use cross-sectional and retrospective methods. No longitudinal study (separately) examines new incidence. Evidence of correlates encompasses distal/proximal, person/environment, and state/trait factors. Many studies report associations between current self-harm behavior and a history of childhood sexual abuse. Adolescent and adult self-harmers experience more frequent and more negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and aggressiveness, than persons who do not self-harm. Two studies yield specific interactions between childhood trauma and current traits and states such as low emotional expressivity, low self-esteem, and dissociation with respect to a vulnerability to self-harm.
Conclusion: Evidence of distal, biographical stressors is fairly strong. Proximal stressors have rarely been investigated; protective factors, hardly at all. Despite many findings of correlates, the data do not yet justify terming them risk factors. Longitudinal studies are needed.