Deliberate self-poisoning and self-injury in adolescents. A study of characteristics and trends in Oxford, 1976-89.
K Hawton, J Fagg


In Oxford during the late 1970s and early 1980s a decline in rates of deliberate self-poisoning and self-injury in older female teenagers was followed by a steady increase between 1986 and 1989. Rates for male adolescents and young female adolescents remained relatively stable throughout 1976-89. Applying the Oxford rates to England and Wales suggest a total of 18,000-19,000 hospital-referred cases per year. While self-poisoning with minor tranquillisers and sedatives has declined, there has been a marked increase in paracetamol self-poisoning, such that by 1988-89 it was involved in 48.3% of overdoses. Relationship difficulties were the most frequent problems faced by these adolescents, especially the females, with unemployment and alcohol and drug problems also being common, especially in males, but psychiatric disorders relatively rare. Substantial proportions of the adolescents, especially the males, were not living with either relatives or friends, and had a history of violence or a criminal record. The annual rate of repetition of attempts, which was 8.9% overall, was higher in adolescents not admitted to the general hospital, and in females not referred to the hospital psychiatric service. Adolescent attempted suicide clearly continues to be a major health problem for which both effective preventive and therapeutic strategies are badly needed.