Self-Harm Intentions: Can They Be Distinguished Based Upon a History of Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse?

Elaine E. Santa Mina


A non-experimental, comparative design is used to measures self-harm intention in clients with and without a history of childhood physical and sexual abuse (CP/SA) presenting to an emergency department with an episode of self-harm behaviour. The traditional suicide literature identifies the key intention concepts of wish-to-die, lethality, hopelessness, and depression. However, the trauma literature understands self-harm behaviour to be an adaptive response to CP/SA and as such possibly helpful for managing intense affect and dissociation. The findings of this study demonstrate that a CP/SA history is not a distinguishing factor in self-harm intention. Almost all participants, regardless of abuse history, gave multiple reasons for their self-harm behaviour, in addition to or other than the wish-to-die. The striking similarity between the non-abused and abused groups with regard to self-harm intention challenges clinicians to assess for the full range of intentions of people who engage in self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

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