To provide meta-analytic estimates of self-harm from all community-based studies of adolescents from 1990 through 2015, estimates of suicidal risk, and characteristics including age profile, frequency, types, seeking help, and reasons.
Databases, bibliographies, and the internet were searched for cross-sectional and cohort studies of 12- to 18-year-olds. Meta-analytic estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of self-harm, risk of suicidal behaviors, and rates comparing different methods were calculated.
One hundred seventy-two datasets reporting self-harm in 597,548 participants from 41 countries were included. Overall lifetime prevalence was 16.9% (95% CI 15.1–18.9), with rates increasing to 2015. Girls were more likely to self-harm (risk ratio 1.72, 95% CI 1.57–1.88). The mean age of starting self-harm was 13 years, with 47% reporting only 1 or 2 episodes and cutting being the most common type (45%). The most frequent reason was relief from thoughts or feelings. Slightly more than half sought help, but for most this was from a friend. Suicidal ideation (risk ratio 4.97) and attempts (risk ratio 9.14) were significantly higher in adolescents who self-harmed, but this was higher with more frequent self-harm. Methodologic factors also were associated with higher rates of self-harm.
Interventions that can lower suicidal risk should be made available to adolescents who self-harm frequently as soon as possible. Preventative interventions that help adolescents deal with negative feelings should be instituted at the onset of puberty. Because friends are frequently asked for support, interventions also should be developed for peer groups.