Media Releases

Direct childhood abuse and not indirect childhood abuse linked to non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents in Ontario

May 4, 2017

Toron­to, ON – Ado­les­cents who were phys­i­cal­ly abused or sex­u­al­ly abused were more like­ly to engage in non-sui­ci­dal self-injury than their non-abused coun­ter­parts, accord­ing to a new study from researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. The study appears online in the jour­nal Child Abuse & Neglect.

“We found that about one in three ado­les­cents with men­tal health prob­lems in Ontario engaged in non-sui­ci­dal self-injury. We were sur­prised to find that only the expe­ri­ence of adver­si­ties direct­ed towards the child (phys­i­cal and sex­u­al abuse) pre­dict­ed non-sui­ci­dal self-injury and not adver­si­ties indica­tive of parental risk such as parental men­tal health issues or expo­sure to domes­tic vio­lence” says lead author Philip Baiden, a PhD Can­di­date at the Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. Con­trol­ling for oth­er fac­tors, the authors also found that ado­les­cents who are females, had symp­toms of depres­sion, diag­no­sis of ADHD, and mood dis­or­ders were more like­ly to engage in non-sui­ci­dal self-injury. How­ev­er, ado­les­cents who have some­one that they could turn to for emo­tion­al sup­port when in crises were less like­ly to engage in non-sui­ci­dal self-injury.

The researchers uti­lized data from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 2,038 chil­dren and ado­les­cents aged 8–18 years referred to com­mu­ni­ty and inpa­tient men­tal health set­tings in Ontario. The data was col­lect­ed using the inter­RAI Child and Youth Men­tal Health assess­ment instru­ment.

“Depres­sion is one indi­ca­tion that an indi­vid­ual is hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty cop­ing with his/her life sit­u­a­tion and being depressed can severe­ly impact one’s abil­i­ty to reg­u­late emo­tions and focus almost exclu­sive­ly on the neg­a­tive aspect of life. Among sur­vivors of sex­u­al abuse, depres­sion can also man­i­fest itself as emo­tion­al pain, for which non-sui­ci­dal self-injury becomes an out­let” says co-author Shan­non Stew­art, an inter­RAI Fel­low and Direc­tor of Clin­i­cal Train­ing, School and Applied Child Psy­chol­o­gy at West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty.

Co-author Bar­bara Fal­lon, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and Cana­da Research Chair in Child Wel­fare, also notes that “under­stand­ing the mech­a­nism through which non-sui­ci­dal self-injury may occur can inform clin­i­cians and social work­ers work­ing with for­mer­ly abused chil­dren in pre­vent­ing future non-sui­ci­dal self-inju­ri­ous behav­iours.”

Online link to the study:

The study was sup­port­ed in part by: the Joseph-Armand Bom­bardier Cana­da Grad­u­ate Schol­ar­ship-Doc­tor­al Award through the Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties Research Coun­cil of Cana­da award­ed to Mr. Baiden. Pro­fes­sor Stew­art also received assis­tance from the Com­mu­ni­ty Vital­i­ty Grant through Lon­don Ontario Com­mu­ni­ty Foun­da­tion.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Philip Baiden, PhD Can­di­date
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
246 Bloor Street West, Toron­to, Ontario, M5S 1V4.