Stigma towards individuals who self harm: impact of gender and disclosure [2018]

Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is reasonably common, particularly among young people with prevalence rates of up to 25 per cent reported. Many factors contribute towards NSSI, including depression, anxiety and history of abuse and NSSI is a risk factor for suicide. Many people who engage in NSSI do not seek help, potentially due to concern about sigmatising attitudes. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the impact of gender and disclosure on stigmatising attitudes towards individuals who engage in NSSI.

Participants were 384 first-year university students (77.4 per cent female; mean age 19.50 years (SD=3.53)) who completed measures of stigmatising attitudes in response to vignettes featuring individuals who engaged in self-harming behaviour. Vignettes varied in the gender of the individual as well as whether the NSSI was disclosed or not.

The results support the attribution model of public discrimination in relation to NSSI stigma. Perceptions of higher personal responsibility for NSSI behaviour and higher levels of danger and manipulation were positively associated with stigmatizing attitudes and behaviours. Male research participants reported significantly higher levels of stigmatizing attitudes and behaviours than females.

Social implications
The level of stigmatising attitudes towards individuals who engage in NSSI is significant and may impact on help-seeking behaviour.

Between 10 and 25 per cent of adolescents engage in some form of NSSI, but only a minority seek help to address this behaviour. This study suggests that attitudes by peers may influence help-seeking. Further research is required outside of tertiary education settings.

Brendan Lloyd, Alexandra Blazely, Lisa Phillips

Journal of Public Mental Health, 2018