Association between unintentional injuries and self-harm among adolescent emergency department patients

Dwena Phillips, Cristina Lidón-Moyano, Magdalena Cerdá, Paul Gruenewald, Sidra Goldman-Mellor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Unintentional injury, a leading cause of morbidity among adolescents, may also be a risk factor for deliberate self-harm. To inform clinical and public health prevention efforts in adolescent populations, we examined whether distinct subtypes of unintentional injury were differentially associated with deliberate self-harm. Methods: Statewide, all-payer, individually linkable administrative data on adolescent patients presenting to any California emergency department (ED) in 2010 (n = 490,071) were used to investigate longitudinal associations between subtypes of unintentional injury and deliberate self-harm. Adolescents aged 10–19 years presenting with unintentional drug poisoning, other poisoning, fall, suffocation, or cutting/piercing injuries formed the exposure groups; adolescents presenting with unintentional strike injuries formed the primary referent group. Study patients were followed back in time (2006–2009) to compare the groups' odds of a prior ED visit for deliberate self-harm, as well as forwards in time (2010–2015) to compare their risks of subsequent self-harm. Results: Unintentional drug-poisoning injury was strongly associated with increased likelihood of ED visits for deliberate self-harm, assessed both retrospectively (adjusted OR = 4.52; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.08, 6.64) and prospectively (adjusted RR = 3.74; 95% CI = 3.03, 4.60). Positive associations with odds of prior self-harm and/or risk of subsequent self-harm were also observed for patients with unintentional non-drug poisoning, suffocation, and cutting/piercing injuries. Conclusions: Certain subtypes of unintentional injury, particularly drug poisoning, are strongly associated with risk for deliberate self-harm among adolescents, a finding with implications for targeting clinical assessment and intervention in emergency department settings. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying these associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalGeneral Hospital Psychiatry
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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