Self-harming in depressed patients: pattern analysis


  • G. Parker,

  • Gin Malhi,

  • Philip Mitchell,

  • Beth Kotze,

  • Kay Wilhelm,

  • Kay Parker

  • School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

  • Black Dog Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick 2031, Sydney, Australia. Email:

G. Parker, Scientia Professor (School of Psychiatry) (Correspondence); Gin Malhi, Senior Lecturer; Philip Mitchell, Professor; Beth Kotze, Lecturer; Kay Wilhelm, Associate Professor; Kay Parker, Senior Research Assistant


Objective: As deliberate self-harm (DSH) is a common concomitant of depressive disorders, we undertook a study examining the relevance of possible determinants and correlates of DSH.

Method: Three separate samples of depressed outpatients were studied to determine consistency of identified factors across samples, with principal analyses involving gender, age and diagnosis-matched DSH and non-DSH subjects.

Results: Across the samples, some 20% of subjects admitted to episodes of DSH. Women reported higher rates and there was a consistent trend for higher rates in bipolar patients. Univariate analyses examined the relevance of several sociodemographic variables, illicit drug and alcohol use, past deprivational and abusive experiences, past suicidal attempts and disordered personality functioning. Multivariate analyses consistently identified previous suicide attempts and high ‘acting out’ behaviours across the three samples, suggesting the relevance of an externalizing response to stress and poor impulse control.

Conclusions: Results assist the identification and management of depressed patients who are at greater risk of DSH behaviours.