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BACKGROUND: It is essential to investigate the experiences behind why adolescents start and continue to self-harm in order to develop targeted treatment and prevent future self-harming behaviours. AIMS: The aims of this study are to understand the motivations for initiating and repeating nonfatal self-harm, the different methods used between first-time and repeated self-harm and the reasons that adolescents do not seek help from health services. METHODS: Adolescents with repeated nonfatal self-harm experiences were recruited to participate in individual, semi-structured qualitative interviews. The interviews were analysed with interpretative phenomenological analysis. RESULTS: We found that nonfatal self-harm among adolescents occurred comparatively early and was often triggered by specific reasons. However, the subsequent nonfatal self-harm could be causeless, with repeated self-harm becoming a maladaptive coping strategy to handle daily pressure and negative emotions. The choice of tools used was related to the ease of accessibility, the life-threatening risk and the size of the scars. Adolescents often concealed their scars on purpose, which made early identification insufficient. Peer influence, such as online chat groups encouraging self-harm by discussing and sharing self-harm pictures, could also lead to increased self-harm. The results also included participants' opinions on how to stop nonfatal self-harm and their dissatisfaction with the current healthcare services. CONCLUSIONS: The current study provides important implications both for early identification and interventions for adolescents who engage in repeated nonfatal self-harm, and for individualising treatment planning that benefits them. It is also worthwhile to further investigate how peer influence and social media may affect self-harm in adolescents.

Original publication




Journal article


BJPsych Open

Publication Date





Repeated self-harm, adolescent, initial episode, qualitative method, social media