From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.


Self-harm (deliberately injuring yourself by cutting, burning or similar means) is an often misunderstood behaviour, recent evidence suggesting it is particularly high in the current generation of young people. Although it is now becoming clearer why young people self-harm, little is known about the reasons they give for cessation or links with sociodemographic factors and employment status.

Self-harm behaviours were investigated using data from 1258 participants in the ‘11 to 16/16+ ’ study.  By age 19, 7% reported self-harming at some point in their lives, although only 1.6% were currently doing so.  There were no differences by gender or social class of origin, but young people outside the labour market were much more likely to report both past and current self-harm and intention to kill themselves.  This particularly vulnerable group contrasts with students who more often self-harmed for a brief time, typically to reduce anxiety.  This analysis also found there were four broad reasons that young people gave for stopping: realisation of the harm they were doing to themsleves and their families (37%); that the self-harm had been a transitory reaction to temporary stress (26%); improved coping strategies and circumstances (25%); and lastly, receiving help from mental health professionals, friends or family (12%).

Another study examined the relationship between self-harm and youth subcultural identity, focusing in particular on Goths.  The results showed that even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors and other subcultural identification, affiliation to Goth subculture remained the single strongest predictor of self-harm and attempted suicide.  Much self-harm started before becoming involved in this subculture, suggesting that young people who self-harm are attracted to the subculture and may well find support there.

Analyses of a sub-sample of 15-year old PaLS study participants explored the associations between cortisol (a biological measure of stress), trauma, and suicide attempts or ideation. No associations were found between cortisol and either suicide attempts or ideation.



Young R, van Beinum M, Sweeting H, West P. Young people who self-harm. British Journal of Psychiatry 2007;191:44-49



Young R, Sweeting H, West P. Prevalence of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide within contemporary Goth youth subculture: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ 2006;332:1058-1061

pubmed  open access  

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  • Cortisol

    Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in the response to stress; it increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.  Changes in serum cortisol levels have been observed in connection with clinical depression, psychological distress, and such physiological stressors as hypoglycaemia, illness, fever and physical exertion.

  • Deliberate self-harm

    Intentional self-poisoning or self-injury, irrespective of motivation.

  • Goth subculture

    A contemporary subculture prevalent in many countries and with many variations. Common to all is a tendency towards a "dark" sound and outlook

    It began in the UK during the late 1970s to early 1980s in the gothic rock scene, an offshoot of the post-punk genre

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