Background: Self-harm is an important predictor of a suicide death. Culturally appropriate strategies for the prevention of self-harm and suicide are needed but the evidence is very limited from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This study aims to investigate the effectiveness of a culturally adapted manual-assisted problem-solving intervention (CMAP) for patients presenting after self-harm.
This was a rater-blind, multicenter randomised controlled trial. The study sites were all participating emergency departments, medical wards of general hospitals and primary care centres in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta, Pakistan. Patients presenting after a self-harm episode (n = 901) to participating recruitment sites were assessed and randomised (1:1) to one of the two arms; CMAP with enhanced treatment as usual (E-TAU) or E-TAU. The intervention (CMAP) is a manual-assisted, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)-informed problem-focused therapy, comprising six one-to-one sessions delivered over three months. Repetition of self-harm at 12-month post-randomisation was the primary outcome and secondary outcomes included suicidal ideation, hopelessness, depression, health-related quality of life (QoL), coping resources, and level of satisfaction with service received, assessed at baseline, 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-month post-randomisation. The trial is registered on ClinicalTrials.gov. NCT02742922 (April 2016).
We screened 3786 patients for eligibility and 901 eligible, consented patients were randomly assigned to the CMAP plus E-TAU arm (n = 440) and E-TAU arm (N = 461). The number of self-harm repetitions for CMAP plus E-TAU was lower (n = 17) compared to the E-TAU arm (n = 23) at 12-month post-randomisation, but the difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.407). There was a statistically and clinically significant reduction in other outcomes including suicidal ideation (− 3.6 (− 4.9, − 2.4)), depression (− 7.1 (− 8.7, − 5.4)), hopelessness (− 2.6 (− 3.4, − 1.8), and improvement in health-related QoL and coping resources after completion of the intervention in the CMAP plus E-TAU arm compared to the E-TAU arm. The effect was sustained at 12-month follow-up for all the outcomes except for suicidal ideation and hopelessness. On suicidal ideation and hopelessness, participants in the intervention arm scored lower compared to the E-TAU arm but the difference was not statistically significant, though the participants in both arms were in low-risk category at 12-month follow-up. The improvement in both arms is explained by the established role of enhanced care in suicide prevention.
Suicidal ideation is considered an important target for the prevention of suicide, therefore, CMAP intervention should be considered for inclusion in the self-harm and suicide prevention guidelines. Given the improvement in the E-TAU arm, the potential use of brief interventions such as regular contact requires further exploration.