Conference Contribution Details
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Larkin, C., Di Blasi, Z., Arensman, E.
14th European Symposium of Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour
How do self-harm repeaters make sense of their experience? An interpretative phenomenological analysis of emergency department patients' accounts
Tel Aviv, Israel
Oral Presentation
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Introduction: Self-harm research often prioritises quantitative approaches, which do not facilitate a deeper understanding of the subjective experience and significance of self-harm. Extant qualitative studies of self-harm have tended to focus on community samples of self-injurers. Therefore, the current study explored the accounts of self-harm patients who have engaged in repeated self-harm with a variety of self-harm methods. The study was intended to build a deeper understanding of the subjective experience of self-harm, of the meaning of repetition of self-harm, and of participants’ experiences of medical treatment of self-harm.


Methods: The current study involved in-depth interviews (average duration: 60 minutes) conducted with ten self-harm patients shortly after discharge and again at three months’ follow-up.  Patients were recruited through liaison psychiatry teams in two hospitals in Cork City, Ireland.  The data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis, which emphasises individuals’ experiences and the meaning ascribed to those experiences.  

Results: The major themes that were generated in the analysis of these participants’ accounts were “long-term vulnerability”, “self-harm as contextual”, “agency through self-harm”, “self(-harm) as socially aberrant”, and “road to recovery”.

 For these participants, self-harm was a personal experience that reflected their own long-term vulnerability and agency, but was an act that involved social precipitants and adverse social consequences. Nonetheless, the participants felt that the most recent act had effected change that allowed them to begin engaging in recovery. The interactions between interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of self-harm have implications for psychosocial interventions to prevent repetition of self-harm, such as hospital management and psychotherapy.  

Health Research Board Health Service Research Collaboration