Self-Injurious Behavior Does Not Always Lead to Suicide

The rates of nonsuicidal self-injuries (NSSI) are staggeringly high, especially among adolescents and young adults. Although it is theorized that most young people who engage in NSSI do so only for a short period, others continue to injure throughout adulthood. There has been an abundant amount of research showing that NSSI does not always lead to suicide. In fact, most individuals who engage in NSSI do not entertain thoughts of suicide, and only hurt themselves in an attempt to relieve stress or emotional pain. They rarely go on to take their own lives. However, a small portion of NSSI engagers do. To get a better idea of what factors related to NSSI put people at risk for suicide attempts, Chloe A Hamza of the Department of Psychology at Brock University in Canada recently led a study involving 439 self-reported NSSI young adults.

Hamza looked at several factors to determine if there were distinctions between those who did and did not eventually attempt suicide. She found three specific classes of NSSI individuals. The first group represented the majority of participants (68%) and was comprised of individuals who infrequently engaged in NSSI behaviors and had low levels of psychological impairment. The second and third groups injured themselves more frequently and more severely. But it was only the participants in the third group who reported suicidal attempts or ideations.

This group had the most frequent and most severe level of NSSI behavior and also had elevated levels of psychosocial impairment. More specifically, the individuals from the third group were more likely to report high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress than participants from group two or group one. Also, group three participants reported being alone most often when engaging in NSSI, while the other participants reported NSSI behaviors with others. They also reported current suicidal ideation versus ever having contemplated suicide. Overall, Hamza’s results show there are several factors that contribute to NSSI – suicidal behaviors that are not present in the majority of people who engage in NSSI alone. She added, “Our findings highlight the importance of assessing NSSI history, in combination with psychosocial impairment, to identify those individuals most at risk for suicidal behavior.”

Hamza CA, Willoughby T. (2013). Nonsuicidal self-injury and suicidal behavior: A latent class analysis among young adults. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59955. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059955

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  • gina


    April 10th, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    true-not all those who injure themselves may have ideas of suicide. but how are parents of such adolescents to know? i went through hell a few years ago when i found out my adolescent son was cutting himself. although it was all short lived, thankfully, it did not help with the stress and worry. maybe earl interventions can help prevent more severe self injuries and thus prevention if suicide ideas?

  • Grant Collins

    Grant Collins

    April 11th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    I have never been able to wrap my mind around the thought that there are actually people who hurt themselves ON PURPOSE.

    What’s that all about? Is it because they have become to immune to other hurt that they do this just to feel something? Or is it more than that? I don’t know, it just confuses me.

  • devon


    April 11th, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    I truly believe that the people who are doing this, young or old, are basically issuing a cry for help. If not that then what other reason could there be to harm yourself. They need attention, they need intervention, and for many of them who feel like they can’t ask, well, this is their way of asking for it.

  • Armando favazza

    Armando favazza

    April 17th, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    The term now used by researchers and clinicians to describe self-harm behaviors is NSSI [non-suicidal self-injury]. As described in my many psychiatric papers and in my book “Bodies Under Siege” [2011] suicide attempts may occur [usually by overdose] among persons who engage in repetitive NSSI, feel that they are addicted to it and become demoralized over their inability to control this behavior.

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