Research about self-harm in adolescence is important given the high incidence in youth, and strong links to suicide and other poor outcomes. Clarifying the impact of involvement in school-based self-harm studies on young adolescents is an ethical priority given heightened risk at this developmental stage.
Here, 594 school-based students aged mainly 13–14 years completed a survey on self-harm at baseline and again 12-weeks later. Change in mood following completion of each survey, ratings and thoughts about participation, and responses to a mood-mitigation activity were analysed using a multi-method approach.
Baseline participation had no overall impact on mood. However, boys and girls reacted differently to the survey depending on self-harm status. Having a history of self-harm had a negative impact on mood for girls, but a positive impact on mood for boys. In addition, participants rated the survey in mainly positive/neutral terms, and cited benefits including personal insight and altruism. At follow-up, there was a negative impact on mood following participation, but no significant effect of gender or self-harm status. Ratings at follow-up were mainly positive/neutral. Those who had self-harmed reported more positive and fewer negative ratings than at baseline: the opposite pattern of response was found for those who had not self-harmed. Mood-mitigation activities were endorsed.
Self-harm research with youth is feasible in school-settings. Most young people are happy to take part and cite important benefits. However, the impact of participation in research appears to vary according to gender, self-harm risk and method/time of assessment. The impact of repeated assessment requires clarification. Simple mood-elevation techniques may usefully help to mitigate distress.