Longitudinal predictors of past-year non-suicidal self-injury and motives among college students

H. C. Wilcox, A. M. Arria, K. M. Caldeira, K. B. Vincent, G. M. Pinchevsky, K. E. O'Grady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is the deliberate and direct injuring of body tissue without suicidal intent for purposes not socially sanctioned. Few studies have examined the correlates of NSSI among young adults. This study aimed to identify predictors of lifetime and past-year NSSI, and describe motives for NSSI and disclosure of NSSI to others. Method Interviews were conducted annually with 1081 students enrolled in the College Life Study, a prospective longitudinal study conducted at a large public mid-Atlantic university. NSSI characteristics were assessed at Year 4. Demographic and predictor variables were assessed during Years 1 to 4. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to identify correlates of lifetime NSSI and predictors of past-year NSSI. Results The prevalence of past-year and lifetime NSSI was 2% and 7% respectively (>70% were female for both lifetime and past-year NSSI). Seven percent of NSSI cases self-injured once, whereas almost half self-injured six or more times. Independent predictors of past-year NSSI were maternal depression, non-heterosexual orientation, affective dysregulation and depression. Independent predictors of lifetime NSSI were depression, non-heterosexual orientation, paternal depression and female sex. One in six participants with NSSI had attempted suicide by young adulthood. The three most commonly reported motives for NSSI were mental distress, coping and situational stressors. Most (89%) told someone about their NSSI, most commonly a friend (68%). Conclusions This study identified unique predictors of NSSI, which should help to elucidate its etiology and has implications for early identification and interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)717-726
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • College students
  • NSSI
  • deliberate self-harm
  • self-injurious behavior
  • young adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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