Nonsuicidal self-harm and suicide attempts in adolescents: differences in kind or in degree?

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2013 Sep;48(9):1447-55. doi: 10.1007/s00127-012-0646-y. Epub 2012 Dec 27.


Purpose: The purpose of the present study was to measure the prevalence of self-harm (SH) behaviours and examine potential differences in characteristics among adolescents reporting on self-harm (SH), depending on whether they had attempted suicide (SA), performed nonsuicidal self-harm (NSSH), or both.

Methods: Cross-sectional survey of 11,440 adolescents aged 14-17 years in the city of Oslo, Norway. Responses regarding measures of lifetime SH and risk factors were collected. The response rate was 92.7%. Data were analysed by segregating SH responses into the categories of NSSH, SA, and NSSH + SA.

Results: Among all respondents, 4.3% reported NSSH, 4.5% reported SA, 5.0% reported both NSSH and SA, and 86.2% reported no SH. The group reporting to have engaged in both behaviours comprised more girls and reported more suicidal ideation, problematic lifestyles, poorer subjective health, and more psychological problems compared with the other groups. The four groups could be distinguished by one discriminant function that accounted for most of the explained variance.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that NSSH and SA are parts of the same dimensional construct in which suicidal ideation carries much of the weight in adolescents from a school-based sample. They also indicate the group of adolescents who seems to alternate between NSSH and SA is more burdened with mental ill-health and behavioural problems compared with others. These adolescents should therefore be targeted by clinicians and school health personnel for identification and provision of adequate help and services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*