Background: Self-harm entails high costs to individuals and society in terms of suicide risk, morbidity and healthcare expenditure. Repetition of self-harm confers yet higher risk of suicide and risk assessment of self-harm patients forms a key component of the health care management of self-harm patients. To date, there has been no systematic review published which synthesises the extensive evidence on risk factors for repetition.
Objective: This review is intended to identify risk factors for prospective repetition of self-harm after an index self-harm presentation, irrespective of suicidal intent.
Data sources: PubMed, PsychInfo and Scirus were used to search for relevant publications. We included cohort studies which examining factors associated with prospective repetition among those presenting with self-harm to emergency departments. Journal articles, abstracts, letters and theses in any language published up to June 2012 were considered. Studies were quality-assessed and synthesised in narrative form.
Results: A total of 129 studies, including 329,001 participants, met our inclusion criteria. Some factors were studied extensively and were found to have a consistent association with repetition. These included previous self-harm, personality disorder, hopelessness, history of psychiatric treatment, schizophrenia, alcohol abuse/dependence, drug abuse/dependence, and living alone. However, the sensitivity values of these measures varied greatly across studies. Psychological risk factors and protective factors have been relatively under-researched but show emerging associations with repetition. Composite risk scales tended to have high sensitivity but poor specificity.
Conclusions: Many risk factors for repetition of self-harm match risk factors for initiation of self-harm, but the most consistent evidence for increased risk of repetition comes from long-standing psychosocial vulnerabilities, rather than characteristics of an index episode. The current review will enhance prediction of self-harm and assist in the efficient allocation of intervention resources.