Background: Self-cutting in young people is associated with high risk of repetition and suicide. It is important, therefore, to identify characteristics of self-cutting that might impact on repetition and aspects of care by staff. This study aimed to explore differences in clinical (e.g., previous self-harm) and psychological characteristics (intent, mental state, precipitants) of self-cutting in young people based on whether site of cut was visible or concealed.
Methods: Data were from a large prospective self-harm monitoring database that collected data on hospital emergency department presentations for self-harm in the City of Manchester, UK, between 2005 and 2011. Clinical and psychological characteristics, as well as onward referral/clinical management from the emergency department, of 799 young people (totalling 1,196 episodes) age 15-24 who self-cut in visible or concealed areas were compared using logistic regression.
Results: During the study period 500 (40%) episodes were in a concealed location. Concealed self-cutting was more likely to be precipitated by specific self-reported precipitants such as abuse and characterised by the following: previous self-harm, current psychiatric treatment, premeditation, and greater risk of repetition within the study period. Receiving a psychosocial assessment and referral to psychiatric services from the emergency department were less likely, however. Repetition and referral to psychiatric treatment were not significantly associated with site of injury when adjusting for other factors.
Conclusions: There are meaningful differences in characteristics associated with location of cut. We recommend that all young people who present to hospital following self-harm receive a psychosocial assessment, in line with NICE guidance.