Optional thinking ability among hospital-treated deliberate self-harm patients: A 1-year follow-up study

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Objectives.To investigate the association between optional thinking (the ability to generate alternative solutions to interpersonal problems) in deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients and repeated self-harm.Design.A prospective study of the association between optional thinking in interpersonal problem solving and repeated DSH within 12 months.Method.A non-consecutive sample (N = 152) of DSH patients presenting to the Accident and Emergency department of an acute hospital in Cork city, Ireland, was assessed using a structured interview schedule including the Suicide Intent Scale, the Hopelessness Scale, and the Optional Thinking Test. Repetition within 1 year was established by checking Accident and Emergency records at all three city hospitals. Participants were categorized as repeaters if they engaged in at least one further hospital-treated DSH episode, or non-repeaters.Results.Approximately two-thirds (63.1%) of the sample had engaged in at least one act of DSH prior to their index episode. During follow-up 31 individuals (20.4%) repeated. History of self-harm was significantly associated with prospective repetition when considered alongside all the other predictor variables. Among first evers, low scores on the optional thinking test were significantly associated with the increased risk of repetition within 12 months. Among those with previous DSH, there was no evidence of an association between optional thinking and repetition within 12 months.Conclusions.Poor optional thinking is associated with increased risk of repeated deliberate self-harm in those who present with a first self-harm episode. Interventions to improve optional thinking skills, delivered soon after a first DSH presentation, may be useful in preventing repetition.

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