Exploring the constructs young people hold about non-suicidal self-injury : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Health Science in Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a highly prevalent and alarming behaviour that has recently been
highlighted as an area needing further research. It is not a stand-alone diagnosis, however features as a
symptom in several disorders. NSSI also features heavily in the general population, in those who have
not reached a diagnostic threshold. Prevalence rates and risk factors for New Zealand and the rest of
the world are continuing to emerge as a clear single definition of the behaviour is agreed on. Theories
about the function NSSI behaviour serves for the individual engaging in it are continuing to be
explored, and several promising interventions are also being developed. Non-suicidal self-injury is
typically a private behaviour, which makes reaching those who engage in the behaviour difficult.
Exploring the ideas that young people hold about those who engage in non-suicidal self -injury is the
focus of this current research. This is conducted to understand more about ways the behaviour is
viewed by both people with a history of NSSI, and those with no history. The aim is twofold, firstly to
see what researchers have to say about NSSI behaviour and how lay views, the views of the
participants align with these views or if the participants view NSSI in a completely different manner.
Secondly, to see if those with a personal history of NSSI respond in a different way to those with no
personal history of NSSI.
Seventeen females were interviewed, using an existing technique, mixed repertory grid analysis, to
explore and understand the views they hold about people they know and believe to have engaged in
NSSI. This technique required each participant to rate people they know in relation to how closely
they align with contrasting concepts.
Findings provide evidence to support the use of repertory grids to explore views of NSSI behaviour.
Views of participants both with and without a history of NSSI align with what previous research has
found in relation to existing risk factors of NSSI. Adding to previous research, the use of lay experts to
develop interventions could prove useful, exploring the protective role of belonging in relation to
NSSI and exploring poor work ethic and reliability as outcomes of NSSI behaviour. Health promoting
initiatives that provide practical guidelines for family members and peers of those who engaged in
NSSI with a focus on NSSI specifically as opposed to self-harming behaviour in general is needed.