To examine the evidence for the effectiveness of clinical interventions designed to reduce the repetition of deliberate self-harm (DSH) in adolescents and young adults.
Electronic databases were searched for papers describing randomised and clinical control trials (RCTs) and quasi-experimental studies of interventions targeting adolescents and young adults presenting to clinical services following DSH or suicidal ideation.
Three RCTs, four clinical control trials and three quasi-experimental studies were identified. Group therapy, trialled in a RCT, was the only specific programme which led to a significant reduction in rates of repetition of self-harm. Attendance at follow-up did not improve significantly regardless of the intervention, while one clinically controlled trial of intensive intervention resulted in poorer attendance at follow-up. One quasi-experimental study of family therapy resulted in a significant reduction in suicidal ideation.
The evidence base for treatments designed to reduce the repetition of self-harm in adolescents and young adults is very limited. Expensive interventions such as intensive aftercare offer no clear benefit over routine aftercare. Given that deliberate self-harm among young people is a common clinical problem further good quality treatment studies are warranted. Careful consideration should be given to process evaluation to determine which individual components of any given intervention are effective.
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