Factors affecting non-suicidal self-injury cessation are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to identify differences between individuals with current and past non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in a large probability sample of university students using quantitative and qualitative methods. Predictors of psychological growth related following NSSI cessation were also examined.
The sample included 836 students who participated in a larger online study of well-being at eight U.S. colleges and who reported current or past history of repeated NSSI. The average age of respondents used in analysis was 21.3 years. They were 78.3 % female and 21.7 % male and were 70.7 % Caucasian, 1.4 % African American/Black, 5.5 % Hispanic, 7.8 % Asian/Asian American and 14.7 % other. Analyses tested differences in demographics, NSSI characteristics (e.g. lifetime frequency, number of NSSI functions, NSSI disclosure), formal help-seeking, psychosocial factors, and mental health and trauma histories.
Individuals with current NSSI status were more likely to be female and slightly younger, to report higher NSSI lifetime frequency, more NSSI forms and functions, thinking of themselves as a "self-injurer", and current psychological distress. Individuals with current NSSI status were less likely to report that self-injury interfered with life, that therapy was useful in stopping, perceiving social support, having a sense of meaning in life, access to more emotion regulation strategies, and life satisfaction. Qualitative data suggested that cessation may be attributable to changes in ability to regulate emotion (62.6 %), self-awareness (38.7 %), and important relationships to others (36.0 %). Psychological growth after stopping NSSI was predicted by more severe NSSI (form and perceived NSSI dependence), having talked about NSSI with others and higher numbers of confidantes, perceived life satisfaction, and a history of suicide action.
These findings add to the still nascent body of literature examining processes related to NSSI cessation. Our results point to the importance of help-seeking and social support, as well as psychosocial processes in stopping NSSI.