Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 June 2021
Although non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is an issue of major concern to colleges worldwide, we lack detailed information about the epidemiology of NSSI among college students. The objectives of this study were to present the first cross-national data on the prevalence of NSSI and NSSI disorder among first-year college students and its association with mental disorders.
Data come from a survey of the entering class in 24 colleges across nine countries participating in the World Mental Health International College Student (WMH-ICS) initiative assessed in web-based self-report surveys (20 842 first-year students). Using retrospective age-of-onset reports, we investigated time-ordered associations between NSSI and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-IV) mood (major depressive and bipolar disorder), anxiety (generalized anxiety and panic disorder), and substance use disorders (alcohol and drug use disorder).
NSSI lifetime and 12-month prevalence were 17.7% and 8.4%. A positive screen of 12-month DSM-5 NSSI disorder was 2.3%. Of those with lifetime NSSI, 59.6% met the criteria for at least one mental disorder. Temporally primary lifetime mental disorders predicted subsequent onset of NSSI [median odds ratio (OR) 2.4], but these primary lifetime disorders did not consistently predict 12-month NSSI among respondents with lifetime NSSI. Conversely, even after controlling for pre-existing mental disorders, NSSI consistently predicted later onset of mental disorders (median OR 1.8) as well as 12-month persistence of mental disorders among students with a generalized anxiety disorder (OR 1.6) and bipolar disorder (OR 4.6).
NSSI is common among first-year college students and is a behavioral marker of various common mental disorders.