Implicit Associations of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury with Relief in Posttraumatic Stress and Depressive Disorders

Arch Suicide Res. 2020 Aug 31;1-16. doi: 10.1080/13811118.2020.1811182. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Although once considered a defining feature of borderline personality disorder, research has found high rates of NSSI among individuals with other psychiatric disorders, particularly posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive disorders. A recent study from our research team found that lifetime PTSD and depressive disorders were associated with unique self-reported NSSI motives. Given well-established limitations of assessing motives via self-report measures, the present study sought to extend this line of research by using a novel laboratory measure of the implicit NSSI-relief association to examine NSSI emotional relief motives.

Method: A subset of participants from our previous study (N = 109) completed diagnostic interviews and the laboratory-based DSH-Relief Implicit Association Test (IAT).

Results: Findings indicated that individuals with lifetime PTSD evidenced stronger NSSI-relief associations than those without PTSD. Further, this main effect was qualified by a PTSD by depressive disorder interaction, such that stronger NSSI-relief associations were found among individuals with lifetime PTSD but no lifetime depressive disorder than among individuals without a history of either PTSD or a depressive disorder.

Conclusions: Results highlight the importance of investigating NSSI motives associated with different symptom profiles using a multi-method approach.

Keywords: Depression; implicit association test; nonsuicidal self-injury; posttraumatic stress disorder; self-injurious behavior.