Self-harm in East London adolescents
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The prevalence of adolescent self-harm is higher in the community compared with self-harm monitored through service use, as only a minority of young people seek help. There has been limited longitudinal community-based research on adolescent self-harm, particularly in ethnic minorities. This research aimed to explore self-harm in an ethnically diverse sample of adolescents, with particular focus on social and psychological factors. Two studies were conducted with a sample of East London adolescents to examine the prevalence, risk and protective factors for self-harm, and to explore how young people talk about self-harm. The first involved analysis of longitudinal data from Phases 2 and 3 of RELACHS, a school-based study on adolescent health. In Phase 3, 1023 participants aged15-16 completed self-report surveys. The second, qualitative study explored self-harm in the context of East London adolescent life. Thirty interviews were conducted with 15-16 year olds, 20 of whom had self-harmed. The 12 month prevalence of self-harm was 10.6% for girls and 3.4% for boys (7.3% in total). Regression analysis showed self-harm was strongly associated with current and previous depressive symptoms, conduct problems, low support from family, low parental warmth and high maternal strictness. Relationships with borderline psychological distress indicate that self-harm is not limited to those with serious mental health problems. The qualitative study showed that definitions and experiences of self-harm varied. It was viewed as difficult to comprehend by those who had never done it, and also some who had. Many participants were hesitant to identify themselves as having self-harmed and explained reluctance to disclose self-harm to others. The qualitative study showed no evidence that self-harm was more acceptable in any ethnic group. However, for some, family and cultural restrictions exacerbated other stressors. The results of these two studies complement each other, providing further insight into self-harm in East London adolescents. Findings could inform the development of an intervention about self-harm and emotional well being for adolescents.
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