Explicit Motives, Antecedents, and Consequences of Direct Self-Injurious Behaviors: A Longitudinal Study in a Community Sample of Adolescents

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Background: Self-injurious behaviors in adolescence are a serious public health concern. Aims: The current study aims to expand our understanding of motives for direct self-injurious behaviors (D-SIB). We examined the explicit motives but also the actual antecedents and consequences of D-SIB over time. Method: As part of the Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe (SEYLE) study, adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 years from Israel completed self-report questionnaires at baseline, 3-month, and 12-month follow-ups. Results: Decreases in social support predicted later increases in D-SIB, an effect mediated by negative affect. Both peer and parental support also exerted quadratic effects on D-SIB. Thus, low as well as high support predicted subsequent D-SIB. In turn, D-SIB was followed by increased peer and parental support. Limitations: Our methodology relies on self-reports, affected by social desirability and recall biases. Conclusion: The findings support a causal path for the development of D-SIB: from interpersonal distress to emotional distress and then to D-SIB. They also point to interesting avenues regarding subgroupings of adolescents who self-injure depending on their motives. Finally, our results reveal that D-SIB, although of negative import, might paradoxically be effective in serving certain functions such as gaining support from parents and peers.

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