A systematic study of 50 adolescent self-poisoners aged from 13 to 18 demonstrated considerable discrepancies between the reasons chosen by the subjects to explain the overdoses and those chosen by clinical assessors. Most adolescents indicated that they had been feeling lonely or unwanted, or angry with someone, and had taken the overdose to alleviate or demonstrate this distress. A third said they had wanted to die. In contrast, clinical assessors tended to attribute the overdose to punitive or manipulative reasons and suggested that only seven out of the 50 had wished to die.
The adolescents rarely indicated that they had taken the overdose to get help; this may explain the resistance that may be shown to psychiatric intervention, and casts doubt on the possible effectiveness of preventive agencies. Modification of attitudes to both self-poisoning and early help-seeking may be a more effective means of prevention.