Troya, M, Chew-Graham, C, Babatunde, O, Bartlam, B and Dikomitis, L (2019) Understanding self-harm in older adults: a qualitiative study. EClinicalMedicine, 12. ISSN 2589-5370

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Self-harm is the leading risk factor for suicide, with elevated rates reported among older populations. This study explores how older adults experience self-harm, identifying factors leading to self-harm.

Semi-structured interviews with older adults (≥60 years) engaging in self-harm and support workers from third sector services in England. Older adults were invited to participate in a follow-up interview. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and data analysed thematically. Ethical approval obtained from Keele University’s Ethics Review Panel. A Patient Involvement group contributed to study design, data analysis and interpretation.

Between September 2017 to September 2018, 24 interviews were conducted involving 16 participants: nine older adults and seven support workers. Eight older adults consented to follow-up interviews. All older adults had diagnoses of mental illness in addition to physical illness. Participants identified diverse stressors accumulating over the life-course leaving older adults particularly vulnerable to self-harm. Such stressors included adverse events, loss, interpersonal and health problems. A sense of shame and stigma amongst older people using self-harm to manage distress was also reported.

Self-harm is often concealed due to stigma and shame, being further accentuated amongst older adults, which may result in low levels of medical help-seeking behaviour for self-harm. Self-harm occurred along a spectrum of no-suicidal intent to high-levels of intent, suggesting self-harm holds different functions to older adults. Clinicians should be aware of the existence of self-harm in this age-group, and the heightened risk amongst those with comorbidities so adequate assessment, support and/or referral is provided.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the accepted author manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elsevier at - please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Self-harm Qualitative Suicide Older adults
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman > HQ1050 Aged. Gerontology (Social aspects). Retirement
R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Primary Care Health Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2019 09:15
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2021 10:11

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