Nonsuicidal self-injury in adolescents: current developments to help inform assessment and treatment

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Purpose of review

This review summarizes the recent literature examining nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) in adolescents, with a particular focus on how primary care pediatricians (PCPs) might assess and intervene as a common first point of contact. This NSSI review is timely and relevant, given the prevalence rates among adolescents, as well as its link to suicidal behaviors.

Recent findings

NSSI is most prevalent among adolescents, with lifetime prevalence rates between 17 and 60%. With evidence that the most common age of onset is between 12 and 14 years, evaluating NSSI is a challenging yet necessary aspect of a comprehensive adolescent medical examination. The function of NSSI behaviors may have implications for effective treatment and should be included in assessment. The majority of research has indicated that NSSI serves an emotion regulation function, in that the behavior results in a decrease in intensity of adverse emotional states in the absence of more effective coping strategies.


Considering the prevalence of self-injury among adolescents, the likelihood that PCPs will encounter NSSI in their practice is quite high. Given that more than 50% of youth do not receive needed mental health services, it is critical that PCPs assess for NSSI and intervene accordingly.

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