Are college students who engage in self-injury at risk for suicidal behavior?

Janis Whitlock, M.P.H, Ph.D

Janis Whitlock, M.P.H, Ph.D

Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicide attempts co-occur at high rates among adolescents and young adults. However, very little is understood about the nature of the relationship between the two conditions and, in particular, whether people who engage in non-suicidal self-harm behavior are at increased risk for suicidal ideation or attempts. Dr. Whitlock’s study used information from 1,466 students at five US colleges gathered at 3 time points to better understand the relationship between NSSI and suicidal ideation and attempts. Dr. Whitlock found in the young adults studied that students who engaged in NSSI were at greater risk for future suicidal ideation and attempts. She believes these findings suggest that NSSI may reduce inhibition to suicidal ideation and attempts through getting accustomed to inflicting self- harm. Risk of moving from NSSI to any ideation or attempts is predicted by frequent self-injurious behavior (more than 20 times) and having been in clinical treatment at some time prior to the assessment. Experiencing meaning in life and parental connection was associated with reduce risk. Dr. Whitlock has used the findings from her AFSP grant to apply for two larger government grants about college students at risk. Dr. Whitlock commented that AFSP funding generated knowledge that benefits academic and practitioner communities.

Dr. Janis Whitlock is a Research Scientist Cornell University in Ithaca New York

Related Publications:

  • Whitlock J., Muehlenkamp, J., Eckenrode, J, Purington, A, Abrams, G.B., Barreira, P, Kress, V. (2012). Nonsuicidal Self-injury as a Gateway to Suicide in Young Adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, in press.