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CMAJ. 2008 Jan 29;178(3):306-12. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.061693.

Nonsuicidal self-harm in youth: a population-based survey.

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  • 1Centre for Youth and Society, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.



Nonsuicidal self-harm includes cutting, scratching, burning and minor overdosing. There have been few studies that have examined the rate of self-harm and mental-health correlates among community-based youth. We performed a population-based study to determine the prevalence of nonsuicidal self-harm, its mental-health correlates and help-seeking behaviour.


We used data from the Victoria Healthy Youth Survey, a population-based longitudinal survey of youth aged 14-21 in Victoria, British Columbia. The survey included questions about the history, method, frequency, age of onset and help-seeking for nonsuicidal self-harm. Youth were interviewed between February and June 2005. Univariable group differences were analyzed using students t test for continuous data and chi2 for binary or categorical data. Multivariate analyses were conducted by use of multivariate analysis of variance and logistic regression.


Ninety-six of 568 (16.9%) youth indicated that they had ever harmed themselves. Self-injuries such as cutting, scratching and self-hitting were the most common forms of nonsuicidal self-harm (83.2%). The mean age of onset was 15.2 years. Of those who reported nonsuicidal self-harm, 56% had sought help for this behaviour. Participants who reported 5 or more symptoms (out of 6) in a given symptom category were more likely than those who reported less than 5 symptoms to report nonsuicidal self-harm for the following categories: depressive mood (odds ratio [OR] 2.18, confidence interval [CI] 1.28-3.7) and problems with regulation of attention, impulsivity and activity (OR 2.24, CI 1.33-3.76).


We found a high lifetime prevalence of nonsuicidal self-harm. Many mental-health symptoms were associated with this behaviour, particularly those with depressive mood and attention-related problems. Just over half of youth reported seeking help for nonsuicidal self-harm. Clinicians who encounter youth should be vigilant to assess for this behaviour in youth who present with mental health issues.

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