This study aimed to describe the social representations about the functions of deliberate self-harm and to compare these representations from adolescents with and without a history of deliberate self-harm and adults without a history of these behaviours. We conducted a qualitative study involving the thematic analysis of forty-one semi-structured interviews. The participants consisted of 11 adolescents with a history of deliberate self-harm, 15 adolescents without a history of deliberate self-harm and 15 adults also without a history of behaviours. The interviewees mentioned eight functions of deliberate self-harm consistent with the existing literature, namely interpersonal functions (Communication Attempt, Interpersonal Boundaries, Interpersonal Influence, and Peer Bonding) and intrapersonal functions (Affect Regulation, Anti-Dissociation, Escape Mechanism, and Self-Punishment). Also, two new functions not described in the literature were mentioned (Introspective Mechanism and Replacement of Suffering). Regarding the differences between the three groups, several disparities emerged. Overall, results revealed that the group of adults referenced more interpersonal functions, while both groups of adolescents emphasized intrapersonal functions. This study provides insight regarding the social representations about the functions of deliberate self-harm, also focusing on the differences between adolescents with and without a history of these behaviours and adults without a history of deliberate self-harm.
Deliberate self-harm; social representations; functions; interviews; qualitative study