Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Comparison of Brief Measures of the Prevalence of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in a Nonclinical Sample of Young Adults

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Comparison of Brief Measures of the Prevalence of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury in a Nonclinical Sample of Young Adults

Article excerpt

Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) refers to the act of deliberately causing superficial or moderate damage to one's own body without the intention of suicide (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). NSSI has been the subject of a great deal of empirical study in the past decade due to its relatively-high prevalence among adolescents and young adults (Swannell, Martin, Page, Hasking, & St John, 2014). Researchers reported that as many as 30.7% of adolescents and 35% of young adults have participated in this behavior (Claes, Houben, Vandereycken, Bijttebier, & Muehlenkamp, 2010; Gratz, 2001). Individuals who engage in NSSI are found to be at a higher risk for a range of mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance use (Mars et al., 2014; Nock, Joiner, Gordon, Lloyd-Richardson, & Prinstein, 2006). Researchers have also suggested that high lifetime frequency of NSSI increases the risk for later suicidal thoughts and behaviors (Hamza & Willoughby, 2016; Whitlock et al., 2013).


A review of the NSSI literature reveals a significant discrepancy among reported rates of NSSI prevalence for young adults (Heath, Toste, Nedecheva, & Charlebois, 2008; Muehlenkamp, Claes, Havertape, & Plener, 2012; Swannell et al., 2014). Whereas in two studies by Gratz (2001, 2006), comparable lifetime prevalence rates were found among college students (35% and 37%, respectively), Kuentzel, Arble, Boutros, Chugani, and Barnett (2012) found a lifetime prevalence rate of 12.8% in their survey of students at a Midwestern university. Similarly, Ogle and Clements (2008) reported that only 8.8% of female college students engaged in NSSI over the course of their lifetimes, while additional research with a large collegiate sample (N = 14,372) produced a 15.3% lifetime prevalence rate (Whitlock et al., 2011).

Studies with adolescent samples have also yielded mixed results. Jacobson and Gould (2007) noted this inconsistency when they found that lifetime prevalence of NSSI among adolescents ranged from 13.0% to 23.2% in various studies. Hilt, Cha, and Nolen-Hoeksema (2008) found a lifetime prevalence of 56.4% in a sample of adolescent girls; other studies surveying high school students produced lifetime rates ranging from 16.9% to 30.7% (Claes et al., 2010; Hall & Place, 2010; Mikolajczak, Petrides, & Hurry, 2009; Nixon, Cloutier, & Jansson, 2008). Taken together, lifetime prevalence rates have ranged from 8.8% to 56.4% among adolescent and young adult samples.


Similar variation is seen in investigations of NSSI prevalence within a set period of time (e.g., 6- or 12-month period). For example, Lloyd-Richardson, Perrine, Dierker, and Kelley (2007) investigated NSSI prevalence within the previous 12 months among a diverse sample of high school students. Their findings indicated that 46.5% of adolescents had engaged in NSSI during that time period. Buser, Buser, and Kearney (2012) similarly researched past-year NSSI prevalence among college students and reported a rate of 59.5%. A study of adolescent female participants indicated that 36.2% of participants had engaged in NSSI during the previous 12-month period (Hilt et al., 2008). A substantially lower rate, however, was found by Taliaferro and Muehlenkamp (2015), who studied a sample of high school students. They reported that 6.3% of participants had performed NSSI in the past 12 months. Similarly, in another study by Buser, Peterson, and Hill (2016), a past-year prevalence rate of 9% was reported for a sample of young adults.


Even though inconsistencies in prevalence rates are evident in the NSSI literature, only a few authors have theorized about the causes underlying these variations. Heath et al. (2008) argued that higher prevalence rates are attributable to measurement differences. …

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