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Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2015 Sep 28;9:37. doi: 10.1186/s13034-015-0071-6. eCollection 2015.

Research with adolescents who engage in non-suicidal self-injury: ethical considerations and challenges.

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Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 285 Old Westport Road, North Dartmouth, MA 02747 USA ; Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI USA.
University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada.
Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY USA.
Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
Butler Hospital, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI USA.


Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) has emerged as a significant psychiatric issue among youth. In addition to its high prevalence rates, NSSI is associated with a number of psychiatric issues and confers risk for varying degrees of physical injury. It is also a risk factor for attempted suicide. Thus, youth who engage in NSSI represent a vulnerable and high-risk population and researchers are likely to encounter a variety of ethical challenges when conducting NSSI research. Accordingly, it is critical that researchers be familiar with the major ethical issues involved in NSSI research and how to effectively account for and address them. This is important both prior to obtaining clearance from their Institutional Review Boards and when carrying out their research. To date, there is no consolidated resource to delineate the ethical challenges inherent to NSSI research and how these can be effectively navigated throughout the research process. The goals of this paper are to review international best practices in NSSI research across the various contexts within which it is studied, to offer guidelines for managing these issues, to identify areas in which variation in approaches prohibits decisive recommendations, and to generate questions in need of further consideration among scholars in this field.


Adolescence; Ethics; Imminent risk; Non-suicidal self-injury; Research; Risk assessment; Self-harm

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