Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Factors associated with deliberate self-harm among Irish adolescents

E. M. McMahona1a2, U. Reulbacha1a2, P. Corcorana1, H. S. Keeleya3, I. J. Perrya2 and E. Arensmana1 c1

a1 National Suicide Research Foundation, Cork, Republic of Ireland

a2 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Cork, Republic of Ireland

a3 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Mallow, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland


Background Deliberate self-harm (DSH) is a major public health problem, with young people most at risk. Lifetime prevalence of DSH in Irish adolescents is between 8% and 12%, and it is three times more prevalent among girls than boys. The aim of the study was to identify the psychological, life-style and life event factors associated with self-harm in Irish adolescents.

Method A cross-sectional study was conducted, with 3881 adolescents in 39 schools completing an anonymous questionnaire as part of the Child and Adolescent Self-harm in Europe (CASE) study. There was an equal gender balance and 53.1% of students were 16 years old. Information was obtained on history of self-harm life events, and demographic, psychological and life-style factors.

Results Based on multivariate analyses, important factors associated with DSH among both genders were drug use and knowing a friend who had engaged in self-harm. Among girls, poor self-esteem, forced sexual activity, self-harm of a family member, fights with parents and problems with friendships also remained in the final model. For boys, experiencing bullying, problems with schoolwork, impulsivity and anxiety remained.

Conclusions Distinct profiles of boys and girls who engage in self-harm were identified. Associations between DSH and some life-style and life event factors suggest that mental health factors are not the sole indicators of risk of self-harm. The importance of school-related risk factors underlines the need to develop gender-specific initiatives in schools to reduce the prevalence of self-harm.

(Received June 18 2009)

(Revised November 08 2009)

(Accepted November 16 2009)

(Online publication January 08 2010)


c1 Address for correspondence: E. Arensman, Ph.D., National Suicide Research Foundation, 1 Perrott Avenue, College Road, Cork, Republic of Ireland. (Email: