Self-harm in adolescents is an increasing public health concern and an important risk factor for suicide. We aimed to examine how age of self-harm onset in adolescents was associated with frequency of subsequent suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm (NSSI) episodes, and how age of onset and duration of self-harm may influence the frequency of self-harm.
Data from 103 adolescents with recurrent self-harm recruited from child and adolescent psychiatric outpatient clinics were collected through clinical interviews and self-reports, and analysed with negative binomial and hurdle models.
A lower age of self-harm onset and a longer duration of self-harm were both significantly associated with increased frequency of subsequent episodes of NSSI and risk of a first suicide attempt. There was an increase in repeated suicide attempts when the age of onset of self-harm decreased and the duration increased, and dramatically more for long duration of NSSI before first suicide attempt.
Initiating self-harm behaviour at the youngest age had the highest risk of increased frequency of NSSI and suicide attempts. Longer duration of self-harm behaviour increased this risk. This underlines the importance of early identification of self-harm behaviour in adolescents, and the use of effective interventions.