Deliberate self-harm in adolescents: a study of characteristics and trends in Oxford, 1990–2000


Keith Hawton, Centre for Suicide Research, University of Oxford Department of Psychiatry, Warneford Hospital, Headington, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK; Email:


Background: Deliberate self-harm (DSH) is a major healthcare problem in adolescents. Identification of targets for prevention and treatment requires ongoing monitoring of trends and characteristics of those involved.

Method: Using data from the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide, we have examined trends and characteristics in adolescents aged 12–18 years presenting to a general hospital because of DSH between 1990 and 2000.

Results: The numbers of presentations by females increased during the study period. An association of DSH with school stress was suggested by there being fewer presentations during the school holiday periods, the largest number in term times occurring on Mondays, and study problems being common. Self-poisoning was involved in more than 90% of episodes. Paracetamol overdoses decreased following legislation on pack sizes of analgesics. Antidepressant overdoses increased during the study period, in keeping with the rise in prescriptions. Drug misuse increased markedly in the boys, as did a history of violence to others. Being a victim of violence increased in girls. Suicide intent was higher in males. Problems faced by the adolescents showed marked gender differences, and differed between age groups and between those carrying out their first DSH episode and repeaters.

Conclusions: Clinical management of DSH in adolescents requires a range of responses, often involving multiservice and multidisciplinary input. Preventive initiatives in schools are also required.