Population Health

August 30, 2022

Meta-analysis shows self-injury and thoughts of suicide reduce stress levels for young adults

Image of bronze W at entrance to Seattle campusSuicide is a leading cause of death among young people, and the role of self-harm and suicidal thoughts are known risk factors for suicide. A group of researchers from the University of Washington recently conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of the mental impacts and reasons behind teens and young adults engaging in self-harm and/or considering attempting suicide. The results show that the consequence of engaging in self-harm or thinking about a suicidal attempt is perceived feelings of stress alleviation.

Researchers around the world have asked people at risk of suicide to complete surveys multiple times per day for the past 10 years to understand the mental, emotional and behavioral state of these people preceding thoughts or actions of self-injury. UW researchers gathered this type of qualitative data from over 1,600 participants to complete the meta-analysis. They found that participants experienced a distinct reduction in stress levels following self-injury and suicidal thoughts compared to the spike in stress that occurs prior to these thoughts and actions.

The results of this study highlight the importance of intervention when people demonstrate these mental or physical behaviors that precede suicide. Most people who die by suicide do not receive mental health treatment. These findings emphasize the importance of helping people find healthier means of reducing stress by improving access to treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy to prevent future self-harm and suicide.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.

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