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J Abnorm Psychol. 2009 Nov;118(4):816-27. doi: 10.1037/a0016948.

Revealing the form and function of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors: A real-time ecological assessment study among adolescents and young adults.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Self-injurious behaviors are among the leading causes of death worldwide. However, the basic nature of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs) is not well understood because prior studies have relied on long-term, retrospective, aggregate, self-report assessment methods. The authors used ecological momentary assessment methods to measure suicidal and nonsuicidal SITBs as they naturally occur in real time. Participants were 30 adolescents and young adults with a recent history of self-injury who completed signal- and event-contingent assessments on handheld computers over a 14-day period, resulting in the collection of data on 1,262 thought and behavior episodes. Participants reported an average of 5.0 thoughts of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) per week, most often of moderate intensity and short duration (1-30 min), and 1.6 episodes of NSSI per week. Suicidal thoughts occurred less frequently (1.1 per week), were of longer duration, and led to self-injurious behavior (i.e., suicide attempts) less often. Details are reported about the contexts in which SITBs most often occur (e.g., what participants were doing, who they were with, and what they were feeling before and after each episode). This study provides a first glimpse of how SITBs are experienced in everyday life and has significant implications for scientific and clinical work on self-injurious behaviors.

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