A qualitative study of understanding reasons for self-harm in adolescent girls

Michelle Miller, Marcus Redley, Paul O. Wilkinson

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Objective: Self-harm is an important public health issue in the UK. Young people who frequently self-harm feel misunderstood, and unable to access help. Improving understanding is key to informing the development and delivery of effective treatments and services. Methods: In this qualitative study, we interviewed nine adolescent girls (13–17 years old) with recurrent self-harm, recruited from NHS specialist child and adolescent mental health services. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results: Findings revealed that self-harm is experienced as powerful mental and physical urges, sated only by self-harming, suggesting that self-harm could be considered a compulsive rather than impulsive disorder, representing a new perspective on the behaviour. Five themes emerged: emotion regulation; an addictive urge; self-harm to survive; interpersonal triggers; interpersonal relationships, not mechanical distractors, reduce self-harm. Conclusions: This study provides further evidence that non-suicidal self-injury may be engaged in to reduce suicidal risk. Seeking the company of helpful friends or family members may reduce the urge to self-harm. Repetitive self-harm may be a compulsive behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3361
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number7
Early online date24 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Compulsivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Interpersonal
  • NSSI
  • Self-harm

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