Majorities within minorities : the experiences of non-suicidal self-injury in the LGBTQ communities : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Psychology at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a maladaptive behaviour, defined as the purposeful
destruction of one’s own body tissue performed in absence of suicidal intent or social custom.
Research suggests that NSSI is a risk factor for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Research also suggests that LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer)
identifying individuals are at a higher risk for experiencing mental distress, NSSI and
suicidality. Within Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Youth’12: Health and Wellbeing of
Secondary School Students survey found that LGBTQ adolescents had significantly higher
rates of NSSI and were five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual
and/or cisgender counterparts. This thesis addresses these concerns through a qualitative
approach, guided by the methodology of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
This research examines how LGBTQ individuals who have previously engaged in
NSSI make sense of their experience. The six individuals interviewed share their background
histories, the process of coming out, and their experiences with NSSI. Participants further
comment on the various ways in which existing ideologies within their social climates
impacted their overall health and wellbeing.
There were numerous challenges faced by the participants. Some experienced
discriminatory behaviours from family, friends, and health professionals. The process of
coming out as LGBTQ was a difficult time for many. Participants experienced stigma and
discrimination in association with both their identity, and the self-injurious behaviour. NSSI
was seen largely as a coping mechanism, and participants displayed resilience in light of their
Self-esteem and self-acceptance increased as participants acquired a stronger sense of
belonging through meaningful connections. Building supportive friendships, and finding a
community contributed to positive health outcomes. However, despite a solidified identity,
societal pressures remained.
The results of this thesis suggest that education and tailored support from health
professionals is of utmost importance. The ongoing challenges experienced by the
participants are reflected in research, and signify that educating families, health professionals,
and the wider society is a crucial step in assisting this at-risk group. Implications for future
directions are discussed.