Self-harm in adolescence and the influence of gender and peer networks

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Health Service and Population Research


Self-harm in adolescence is a growing public health concern both in the UK and internationally. Self-harm is the leading risk factor for later suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death before the age of 25. Self-harm is more commonly reported in women and a 68% increase in self-harm incidence was observed among girls aged 13-16 between 2011 and 2014 in the UK compared with boys of the same age. While both boys and girls engage in self-harm, self-harm among adolescent boys is receiving growing attention.

Self-harm among adolescents is a concerning phenomenon. There is evidence to suggest that boys and girls differ in the ways they self-harm and their risk factors for it. We do not have a clear understanding about if self-harm means the same thing in adolescent girls and boys and what the processes, risks and protective factors are between them. It is important to investigate perceptions and interpretations of self-harm in adolescents, determine the specific factors that precipitate it for an individual and identify factors that could increase and decrease the likelihood of self-harm.

The aim of this PhD project is to examine questions on the gender differences in adolescents who self-harm. The main research questions are: 1. Are the rates of self-harm different in adolescent boys and girls and do boys and girls self-harm in different ways? 2. Does self-harm spread differently across social networks in boys and girls and why is this? Do girls seek help for self-harm more than boys? Is self-harm more hidden among boys? 3. Does self-harm mean the same thing to both boys and girls? 4. What do boys understand self-harm to mean? These questions will be addressed through (i) a systematic review on gender differences in self-harm; (ii) utilising longitudinal data from the Resilience, Ethnicity and Adolescent Mental Health (REACH) cohort in south London (UK) to conduct quantitative and social network analyses; and (iii) conducting semi-structured qualitative interviews with 15-20 adolescent boys from the REACH cohort.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2466069 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2020 30/11/2023 Holly Crudgington