Self-injurious behaviour is considerable prevalent in youth population. In community samples, rates vary from 12 to 21% for non-suicidal self-injury, depending on definition and informant sources. In clinical samples, the rates vary from 30-60%, depending on clinical subgroups and used research methods. Yet despite its high prevalence, self-injurious behaviour is little understood. The need for theoretical models to help understand and treat NSSI has never been more pressing.
In the present study, our aim is to understand what motivates people to engage in self-injurious behaviours. Functionality of self-injurious behaviour was surveyed, using an anonymous self-report online questionnaire, with 219 adolescents between 12 and 18 years old who reported at least one self-injurious act. One major reason for youngsters to engage into self-injurious behaviour appears to be emotion regulation (67.7% of the self-injurers report “to stop bad feelings”, and 60.09% report “self-punishment”). Secondly, NSSI can also be understood in an interpersonal context. For a minority of self-injurers (between 15 to 31% of the self-injurers), NSSI is used as a means of social influence and has a communicational function. When the private self-injurious behaviour is disclosed or made visible to others, it provides an intense social signal that is used when other forms of communication fail. Moreover, one self-injurious act can serve multiple functions: the number of reported functions is positively correlated with the severity of self-injurious acts. Notion must be made that the functionality of self-injury can change over time, across situations and across methods of self-injury. This attribution to the conference will finally address how to approach the question of treatment, interwoven with the research findings on functionality of self-injury.