Original Research

Motives for deliberate self-harm in a South African tertiary hospital

Petrus J.J. van Zyl, Jason Bantjes, Elsie Breet, Ian Lewis
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1524 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1524 | © 2021 Petrus J.J. van Zyl, Jason Bantjes, Elsie Breet, Ian Lewis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 12 February 2020 | Published: 27 January 2021

About the author(s)

Petrus J.J. van Zyl, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Jason Bantjes, Institute for Life Course Health Research, Department of Global Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Elsie Breet, Institute for Life Course Health Research, Department of Global Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Ian Lewis, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Although there is a growing body of literature on the epidemiology of deliberate self-harm (DSH) in South Africa, comparatively few studies have investigated the motives for self-harm. No studies have investigated the motives for DSH in Cape Town.

Aim: The objective of the study was to identify the range of motives for DSH in Cape Town, and how these motives are associated with different socio-demographic factors, the severity of self-injury and levels of suicidal intent.

Setting: Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.

Methods: Data were collected from 238 consecutive patients presenting with DSH to the emergency department. The data were analysed by using bivariate and multivariate analyses.

Results: Patients engaged in DSH for a range of motives. Interpersonal issues were the most common motive (70%), followed by financial concerns (22%). Male patients were twice as likely as female patients to report interpersonal motives for their self-harm. Patients who reported interpersonal issues were more likely to engage in methods of DSH that involved damage to body tissues. Patients without tertiary education were more likely to report academic concerns as a motive, and patients who reported psychiatric illness as motive for DSH were more likely to require medical interventions than those who did not.

Conclusion: This study contributes novel insights into the motives for DSH in the Cape Town context and provides the foundation for continued research on the subject. The study also gives impetus to the development of therapeutic interventions focussed on the motives for self-harm.


Keywords

deliberate self-harm; DSH; suicide; suicidal behaviour; self-injury; suicide; attempted

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