Study challenges evidence on age of onset of self-injury in Australia


The prevalence of self-injury in Australia is substantial and self-injury may begin at older ages than previously reported, according to an article in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Self-injury is deliberate damage to the body without suicidal intent.

Graham Martin, Professor and Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Queensland, and co-authors conducted a cross-sectional study to gain an accurate understanding of self-injury and its correlates in the Australian population.

A sample of 12,006 Australians, from randomly selected households, participated in the study.

In the four weeks before the survey, 1.1 per cent of the sample self-injured. Six-month prevalence was 1.8 per cent. Lifetime prevalence was 8.1 per cent. For females, self-injury peaked between 15 and 24 years of age. For males, it peaked between 10 and 19 years of age. The average age of onset was 17 years, but the oldest was 44 for males and 60 for females.

Prof Martin said that most of the self-injurers in the study reported discussing the problem with someone, but only a third had sought help.

“Self-injurers are more likely to have mental health problems and are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour than non-self-injurers, and many self-injurers do not seek help.

“The rate of self-injury in Australia in the four weeks before the survey was substantial, and onset of self-injury may occur at older ages than previously thought,” Prof Martin said.

“The rate in males across the age range challenges previously held beliefs that self-injury is predominantly a problem for women; clearly it is not.”

“The personal and financial costs are likely to be high, and further research is needed to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective strategies for prevention.”

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

The statements or opinions that are expressed in the MJA  reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA unless that is so stated.


CONTACT:            Prof Graham Martin                         0400 080 489 / 07 3365 5098