The British Journal of Psychiatry


BACKGROUND Deliberate self-harm (DSH) has been a major health problem in the UK for nearly three decades. Any changes in rates of DSH or the demographic characteristics of the patient population are likely to have important implications for clinical services and suicide prevention.

METHOD Data collected by the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide were used to review trends in DSH between 1985-1995.

RESULTS There was a substantial increase in DSH rates during the 11-year study period, with a 62.1% increase in males and a 42.2% increase in females. The largest rise was in 15-24-year-old males (+ 194.1%). Changes in DSH rates correlated with changes in national suicide rates in both males and females in this age group. Rates of repetition of DSH increase in both genders during the study period. Paracetamol self-poisoning has continued to increase, half of all overdoses in 1995 involving paracetamol, and antidepressant overdoses have become more common.

CONCLUSIONS The increase in DSH, especially in young males, has important implications for general hospital DSH and medical services. It may herald a reversal of recent progress towards achievement of national suicide targets.