Objective: Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) appears to be more common among women than men, though the underlying reasons for this remain unclear. In a community sample of young adults (N = 996, aged 18-33) assessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we investigated alternative explanation for the NSSI prevalence gap: are women more likely to experience the feelings which lead to NSSI as a coping strategy, or does this prevalence gap result from differences in how men and women respond to distress?
Methods: Cross-sectional mediation and moderation analyses tested how self-reported psychological distress (K10), emotion dysregulation (DERS), and impulsivity (UPPS-P) may contribute to a higher prevalence of NSSI among women.
Results: Women were twice as likely as men to report past-year NSSI (14.47% versus 7.78%, OR = 2.00, 95% CI [1.29, 3.13]). Women reported significantly higher psychological distress and significantly lower sensation seeking and positive urgency than men. Psychological distress partially statistically mediated the relationship between gender and past-year NSSI. Gender did not significantly moderate associations between psychological distress, emotion dysregulation, or impulsivity and past-year NSSI. Past-year NSSI prevalence did not significantly decrease with age and we found no significant age by gender interaction.
Conclusions: Greater levels of NSSI in young women are partly explained by their greater levels of psychological distress, but not by differences in how men and women respond to this distress. Given similar levels of psychological distress, emotion dysregulation, and impulsivity, women and men are similarly likely to experience NSSI.
Highlights: Women aged 18-33 were significantly more likely to report past-year NSSI than men. Women’s greater psychological distress contributed to their higher NSSI prevalence. Variables investigated here were similarly associated with NSSI in men and women.