Why Do Adolescents Self-Harm?

Crisis. 2016 May;37(3):176-83. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000369. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Background: Given the high rates of self-harm among adolescents, recent research has focused on a better understanding of the motives for the behavior.

Aims: The present study had three aims: to investigate (a) which motives are most frequently endorsed by adolescents who report self-harm; (b) whether motives reported at baseline predict repetition of self-harm over a 6-month period; and (c) whether self-harm motives differ between boys and girls.

Method: In all, 987 school pupils aged 14-16 years completed a lifestyle and coping questionnaire at two time points 6 months apart that recorded self-harm and the associated motives.

Results: The motive "to get relief from a terrible state of mind" was the most commonly endorsed reason for self-harm (in boys and girls). Interpersonal reasons (e.g., "to frighten someone") were least commonly endorsed. Regression analyses showed that adolescents who endorsed wanting to get relief from a terrible state of mind at baseline were significantly more likely to repeat self-harm at follow-up than those adolescents who did not cite this motive.

Conclusion: The results highlight the complex nature of self-harm. They have implications for mental health provision in educational settings, especially in relation to encouraging regulation of emotions and help-seeking.

Keywords: adolescent; motives; reasons; repetition; self-harm.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Northern Ireland / epidemiology
  • Recurrence
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires