Involvement Opportunity: The Lived Experience of Repetitive Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Project title: The Lived Experience of Repetitive Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Project description: Many young adults intentionally hurt themselves for reasons other than wanting to kill themselves (e.g. to feel better, punish themselves, or get support from others). Most people who engage in this type of “non-suicidal self-injury” hurt themselves only a few times, but some continue the behaviour frequently for years. In this study, we are interested in understanding the development of repetitive non-suicidal self-injury. We will recruit 20 to 40 young adults (aged 18-30) from Cambridgeshire mental health services who report: (1) self-injury which began at least one year ago, (2) at least 25 episodes of self-injury in their entire life, and (3) self-injury within the past three months. These young adults will participate in a semi-structured interview about how their experiences of self-injury have changed over time. Our research question is: “How does non-suicidal self-injury change as the behaviour becomes repetitive, from the perspective of young adults with lived experience?” The interviews will be transcribed and analysed using a qualitative method called “thematic analysis” which identifies patterns across participants. Based on previously published research, we expect that many participants will report an escalation of self-injury over time, changes in their reasons for hurting themselves, and a perception of their self-injury as addictive and difficult to control. However, we also expect to see important differences in experience between participants. We hope the knowledge gained from these experts by experience will help psychologists better understand the complicated nature of self-injury and develop treatments which prevent initial self-injury from becoming repetitive and severe.

Researcher: Nina Lutz (PhD student, University of Cambridge, Department of Psychiatry; Dr Paul Wilkinson (University Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, CPFT)

Involvement: At this initial stage, we would like input on the phrasing of our interview questions. We want to ensure that they are asked respectfully, that they are clearly understandable, and that they elicit information which will answer our research question. We would similarly appreciate input on the wording of our study recruitment materials, information sheets, and consent forms. Towards the end of the study, once data analysis is complete, we would like input on our interpretation of the results to ensure we have accurately reflected the perspectives of the participants.

(1)          We would like to send study materials (e.g. consent forms, interview questions) to experts for comment via email, followed by a video conference meeting to discuss their impressions of the study and any suggestions for improvement.

(2)          Similarly, after data analysis is complete, we will send our interpretations and conclusions to experts for comment, followed by a video conference discussion (or in-person meeting, depending on personal preference and social distancing guidelines).


Note: We would ideally like to arrange a meeting with the experts by experience to discuss their feedback, but would also appreciate written comments alone, depending on their personal preference and availability.

Who can be involved: Anyone with a history of repetitive non-suicidal self-injury per study inclusion criteria (i.e. at least one year of self-injury engagement and at least 25 lifetime episodes of self-injury). However, self-injury does not have to be current/on-going (i.e. experts may have recovered from self-injury), and experts can be any age.

Time commitment: At each of the two stages of involvement, we expect a time commitment of approximately two-three hours. Timeline for initial feedback on study materials is end of August 2020, beginning of September. Provisional meeting dates are 10th or 11th of September. Data analysis expected to be completed in Spring/Summer 2021, so participation in interpretation of results may occur in the range of June-September 2021.


To register your interest or find out more information, please contact Iliana at

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