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Self-harm research

Self_harm_imageSelf-harm Research

In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published the first treatment guideline on self-harm, revealing 170,000 people a year attended A&E departments with many being sent away with no proper help. In response to this report SANE undertook a major self-harm research study.

Nearly a thousand people, 827 of whom had first hand experience of self-harm, took part in the study. Over five hundred participants were still harming at the time of filling in the survey. The most commonly reported method was cutting/scratching (93%) or burning (28%) the skin and the most frequently targeted body parts were arms (83%) and thighs/legs (50%). A fifth had overdosed on medicines. It seemed to us that majority of participants, when answering further questions about self-harm, were thinking mainly of cutting/scratching or burning. The functions and motives of overdosing seemed to differ slightly from those associated with cutting and burning.

Despite being thought of as something that teenagers and young adults do, the results from our survey showed that self-harm affects people of all ages. The age range of those who were still harming at the time they took part was 12-59 years of age, and while some people were reporting that they had first started self-harming as young as four, others had not harmed until they were in their late fifties. Although the majority were female, just over a hundred men who had at some time harmed themselves took part in the survey (this made up 12% of all participants who had harmed). It is still unclear whether self-harm really is that much more in common in girls/women than in boys/men, or whether the former are just more willing to talk about it and seek help.


A study published in The Lancet in November 2011 found that one in twelve teenagers self harm. In the following video Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive of SANE is interviewed by Sky News following publication of this study.


There is ample ground for further research and discussion in relating all the different findings discussed in this report to each other. SANE is by no means satisfied that we now know enough about self-harm. We, the researchers at SANE are continuing to consult with those who harm and the families and friends of those who harm, to speak with clinicians and other researchers, and to write and think about this topic. In the same spirit, this report is intended to be an organically growing piece of work which will be regularly updated based on feedback, new findings and novel ways of thinking about those findings.

Therefore, please read through the questions and contextual information on the link above, and if you have any thoughts on what you have read, any experiences that perhaps run counter to something we’ve said or if you just want to comment on a particular point we’ve made, please email us on: info@sane.org.uk or if you prefer, send us a letter to Research Dept, SANE, 1st Floor Cityside House, 40 Adler Street, London E1 1EE.

Your contribution will be anonymised: any names and other identifying information will be removed. Your email and email address will be deleted or your letter shredded within 4 weeks, once its text has been added to our password protected database. Emails are stored on a password protected computer and letters in a locked cabinet. If you would like to be credited on our list of contributors, tell us what name or nick name to use in your email/letter.

You’ll have noticed that we’ve flagged some areas we’re particularly interested in receiving input on, but you’re welcome to comment on anything. We don’t promise to respond to your email/letter or to incorporate your idea explicitly, but we will read what you write with interest and think about it in the context of what others have said. Your voice will be added to the voices of many, and it will contribute to increasing the knowledge base on this misunderstood and stigmatised behaviour.