Exploring the relationship between pain and self-harm thoughts and behaviours in young people using network analysis

Self-harm thoughts and behaviours (SHTBs) are a serious public health concern in young people.

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Background: Emerging research suggests that pain may be an important correlate of SHTBs in young people. However, it remains unclear whether this association is driven by the shared association with other correlates of SHTBs. This study used network analysis to delineate the relationship between SHTBs, pain and other correlates of SHTBs in a population-based sample of young people.

Methods: We performed secondary analyses, using data from 7977 young people aged 5–16 years who participated in the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey in 2004. We used χ2 tests and network analysis to examine the complex interplay between SHTBs, pain and other correlates of SHTBs, including psychiatric disorders, childhood trauma, stressful life events, parental distress, family dysfunction, peer problems and inhibitory control deficits.

Results: Pain was associated with a doubled risk of SHTBs, and likewise, SHTBs were associated with a doubled risk of pain. Furthermore, network analysis showed that although pain was significantly associated with all measured correlates of SHTBs, except family dysfunction, pain was most strongly associated with SHTBs, after accounting for these measured correlates.

Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to utilise network analysis to provide novel insights into the complex relationship between SHTBs, pain and other known correlates of SHTBs in young people. Results suggest that pain is an independent correlate of SHTBs. Future research should aim to identify underlying mechanisms.

Psychological Medicine, 2021,doi.org./10.1017/S0033291721000295


Published Mar. 22, 2021 6:15 AM - Last modified Mar. 24, 2021 3:39 PM