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The role of neuroticism in self-harm and suicidal ideation: results from two UK population-based cohorts

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Jonathan Hafferty, Lauren Navrady, Mark Adams, David Mark Howard, Archie Cambell, Heather Whalley, Stephen Lawrie, Kristen Nicodemus, David Porteous, Ian Deary, Andrew McIntosh

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1518
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number12
Early online date23 May 2019
Accepted/In press13 May 2019
E-pub ahead of print23 May 2019
Published1 Dec 2019


King's Authors


Self-harm is common, debilitating and associated with completed suicide and increased all-cause mortality, but there is uncertainty about its causal risk factors, limiting risk assessment and effective management. Neuroticism is a stable personality trait associated with self-harm and suicidal ideation, and correlated with coping styles, but its value as an independent predictor of these outcomes is disputed.

Prior history of hospital-treated self-harm was obtained by record-linkage to administrative health data in Generation Scotland:Scottish Family Health Study (N = 15,798; self-harm cases = 339) and by a self-report variable in UK Biobank (N = 35,227; self-harm cases = 772). Neuroticism in both cohorts was measured using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Short Form. Associations of neuroticism with self-harm were tested using multivariable regression following adjustment for age, sex, cognitive ability, educational attainment, socioeconomic deprivation, and relationship status. A subset of GS:SFHS was followed-up with suicidal ideation elicited by self-report (n = 3342, suicidal ideation cases = 158) and coping styles measured by the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations. The relationship of neuroticism to suicidal ideation, and the role of coping style, was then investigated using multivariable logistic regression.

Neuroticism was positively associated with hospital-associated self-harm in GS:SFHS (per EPQ-SF unit odds ratio 1.2 95% credible interval 1.1-1.2, pFDR 0.0003) and UKB (per EPQ-SF unit odds ratio 1.1 95% confidence interval 1.1-1.2, pFDR 9.8 × 10-17). Neuroticism, and the neuroticism-correlated coping style, emotion-oriented coping (EoC), were also associated with suicidal ideation in multivariable models.

Neuroticism is an independent predictor of hospital-treated self-harm risk. Neuroticism and emotion-orientated coping styles are also predictive of suicidal ideation.

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