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Self-harm in university students: A comparative analysis of data from the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England

Clements, Caroline; Farooq, Bushra; Hawton, Keith; Geulayov, Galit; Casey, Deborah; Waters, Keith; Ness, Jennifer; Kelly, Samantha; Townsend, Ellen; Appleby, Louis; Kapur, Navneet

Self-harm in university students: A comparative analysis of data from the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England Thumbnail


Caroline Clements

Bushra Farooq

Keith Hawton

Galit Geulayov

Deborah Casey

Keith Waters

Jennifer Ness

Samantha Kelly

Louis Appleby

Navneet Kapur


Background: Increases in poor mental health and suicide have been identified among university students in the UK. However, little is known about self-harm in this group. Aims: To describe and identify care needs of university aged-students who self-harm via comparisons with an age-equivalent non-student group who self-harm. Methods: Observational cohort data from The Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England were used to investigate students aged 18 to 24 years who presented to emergency departments for self-harm, 2003 to 2016. Data were collected via clinician reports and medical records from five hospitals in three English regions. Characteristics, rates, repetition, and mortality outcomes were investigated. Results: The student sample included 3491 individuals (983, 28.2 % men; 2507, 71.8 % women; 1 unknown) compared to 7807 (3342, 42.8 % men; 4465, 57.2 % women) non-students. Self-harm increased over time in students (IRR 1.08, 95%CI 1.06–1.10, p < 0.01) but not in non-students (IRR 1.01, 95%CI 1.00–1.02, p = 0.15). There were differences in monthly distribution of self-harm with more presentations by students in October, November, and February. Characteristics were broadly similar, but students reported more problems with studying and mental health. Repetition (HR 0.78, 95%CI 0.71–0.86, p < 0.01) and mortality (HR 0.51, 95%CI 0.33–0.80, p < 0.01) were lower in students than non-students. Conclusions: Self-harm in students may be directly related the student experience, such as academic pressure, relocation, and the transition to independent living. Wellbeing initiatives targeting these factors, alongside mental health awareness training for academic and non-academic staff may help to support students at risk.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 29, 2023
Online Publication Date May 5, 2023
Publication Date Aug 15, 2023
Deposit Date May 17, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 17, 2023
Journal Journal of Affective Disorders
Print ISSN 0165-0327
Electronic ISSN 1573-2517
Publisher Elsevier BV
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 335
Pages 67-74
Keywords Psychiatry and Mental health; Clinical Psychology
Public URL
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