Abstract

Background: Relatively little is known about the characteristics of people living in the community who have previously self-harmed and may benefit from interventions during and after COVID-19. We therefore aimed to: (a) examine the relationship between reported self-harm and COVID-19-related fear, and (b) describe the characteristics of a community sample of people who reported a lifetime history of self-harm. Methods: A cross-sectional national online survey of UK adults who reported a lifetime history of self-harm (n = 1029) was conducted. Data were collected May – June 2020. Main outcomes were self-reported COVID-19-related fear (based on the Fear of COVID-19 scale [FCV-19S]), lifetime history of COVID-19, and lifetime history of self-harm. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and binary logistic regression. Chi-square was used to compare characteristics of our sample with available national data. Results: Overall, 75.1, 40.2 and 74.3% of the total sample reported lifetime suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts and non-suicidal self-harm respectively. When adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity, social grade, and exposure to death and suicide, binary logistic regression showed higher levels of perceived symptomatic (or physiological) reactions to COVID-19 were associated with suicidal ideation (OR = 1.22, 95%CI 1.07, 1.39) and suicidal attempts (OR = 3.91, 95%CI 1.18, 12.96) in the past week. Conclusions: Results suggest an urgent need to consider the impact of COVID-19 on people with a lifetime history of self-harm when designing interventions to help support people in reducing suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. Experiencing symptomatic reactions of fear in particular is associated with self-harm. Helping to support people to develop coping plans in response to threat-related fear is likely to help people at risk of repeat self-harm during public health emergencies.

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Rights and permissions Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Cite as

Keyworth, C., Quinlivan, L., Leather, J., O'Connor, R. & Armitage, C. 2022, 'The association between COVID-19-related fear and reported self-harm in a national survey of people with a lifetime history of self-harm', BMC Psychiatry, 22, article no: 68. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03625-0

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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