Explicit Motives, Antecedents, and Consequences of Direct Self-Injurious Behaviors

Crisis. 2018 Jul;39(4):255-266. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000493. Epub 2017 Dec 8.


Background: Self-injurious behaviors in adolescence are a serious public health concern.

Aims: The current study aims to expand our understanding of motives for direct self-injurious behaviors (D-SIB). We examined the explicit motives but also the actual antecedents and consequences of D-SIB over time.

Method: As part of the Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe (SEYLE) study, adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 years from Israel completed self-report questionnaires at baseline, 3-month, and 12-month follow-ups.

Results: Decreases in social support predicted later increases in D-SIB, an effect mediated by negative affect. Both peer and parental support also exerted quadratic effects on D-SIB. Thus, low as well as high support predicted subsequent D-SIB. In turn, D-SIB was followed by increased peer and parental support.

Limitations: Our methodology relies on self-reports, affected by social desirability and recall biases.

Conclusion: The findings support a causal path for the development of D-SIB: from interpersonal distress to emotional distress and then to D-SIB. They also point to interesting avenues regarding subgroupings of adolescents who self-injure depending on their motives. Finally, our results reveal that D-SIB, although of negative import, might paradoxically be effective in serving certain functions such as gaining support from parents and peers.

Keywords: adolescents; direct self-injurious behaviors; longitudinal changes; social support.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Affect
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires