Home > Vulnerability or resilience? Psycho-social factors associated with deliberate self-harm among adolescents.

McMahon, Elaine M (2012) Vulnerability or resilience? Psycho-social factors associated with deliberate self-harm among adolescents. PhD thesis, University College Cork.

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External website: http://cora.ucc.ie/bitstream/handle/10468/911/McME...

Background: Deliberate self-harm (DSH) is common among adolescents in Ireland and internationally. Psychological factors, negative life events and lifestyle factors have been found to be associated with self-harm in this group. However, large scale population-based studies of adolescent selfharm and its correlates have been lacking, and internationally a standardised methodology was needed to facilitate comparative studies. The focus on vulnerability which has been prevalent in this field has meant that research has failed to examine resilient adaptation among at-risk adolescents.

Method: Data were obtained from a cross-sectional school-based study conducted in Ireland and in each of the six other centres which participated in the Child and Adolescent Self-harm in Europe (CASE) study. In Ireland, 3,881 adolescents in 39 schools in completing the anonymous questionnaire, while across all 7 centres, over 30,000 young people participated. Data were gathered on health and lifestyle, self-harm thoughts and behaviour, a wide range of life events, psychological characteristics (anxiety and depressive symptoms, self-esteem, impulsivity and coping style), and support available to young people.

Results: This thesis reports the findings of the Irish CASE centre as well as one international study. The factors associated with DSH among Irish adolescents differed by gender, but among both genders drug use and knowing a friend who had engaged in self-harm were associated with DSH. Among Irish boys, strong associations were found between bullying and poor mental health and DSH. Among boys who had been bullied, psychological and school factors were associated with DSH, while family support was protective.

Links between stressful life events, psychological characteristics and DSH within the international CASE sample were examined. Increased history of self-harm thoughts and acts was associated with greater depression, anxiety and impulsivity, lower self esteem and an increased prevalence of ten different negative life events, supporting the hypothesis of a “dose-response” relationship between these risk factors and the self-harm process.

Associations between coping style, mental health factors (depressive symptoms, anxiety and self-esteem) and self-harm were examined among Irish adolescents. Emotion-oriented coping was strongly associated with poorer mental health and self-harm thoughts and acts. A mediating effect of emotion-oriented coping on associations between mental health factors and DSH was found for both genders and between problem-oriented coping and mental health factors for girls. Similar mediating effects of coping style were found when risk of self-harm thoughts was examined.

Resilient adaptation among adolescents exposed to suicidal behaviour of others was examined. Self-harm thoughts were common in these adolescents. Among those exposed to suicidal behaviour of others, vulnerability factors were drug use and higher levels of anxiety among boys, while for girls drug use, bullying and abuse were vulnerability factors, while resilience was associated with higher self-esteem and use of problem-oriented coping.

Conclusion: These findings can aid in the identification of young people at risk of self-harm in the school setting and highlight the importance of mental health, peer-related and lifestyle factors in the development of DSH. High-risk groups of young people such as bullying victims and those exposed to suicidal behaviour of others have distinctive profiles of risk factors which differ from those of their peers. Findings relating to the importance of positive coping skills can inform positive mental health programmes, many of which aim to enhance life skills and build resilience among young people. Knowledge of the factors associated with positive adaptation among at-risk adolescents can inform prevention efforts among this group.

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