A qualitative study of young people’s lived experiences of suicide and self-harm: Intentionality, rationality and authenticity

Hazel Marzetti*, Lisa McDaid, Rory O'Connor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people and a major public health concern. Although increasingly research has identified contributory and protective factors affecting youth suicide, less is known about how young people make sense of suicidal distress themselves.
Methods: Using semi-structured interview methods and reflexive thematic analysis, this study explores how 24 young people aged 16-24 in Scotland, UK made sense of their lived experiences of suicidal thoughts and feelings, self-harm, and suicide attempts.
Results: Intentionality, rationality, and authenticity formed our central themes. Suicidal thoughts were categorised by participants dependent on their intention to act on them; a distinction often used to downplay the significance of early suicidal thoughts. Escalating suicidal feelings were then described as almost rational responses to adversities; whereas suicide attempts appeared to be described as more impulsive. These narratives seemed to be somewhat shaped by dismissive attitudes participants experienced in response to their suicidal distress, both from professionals and within their close networks. This impacted upon how participants articulated distress and asked for support.
Conclusion: Suicidal thoughts that participants articulated as lacking the intention to act could represent key opportunities for early clinical intervention to prevent suicide. In contrast, stigma, difficulties communicating suicidal distress, and dismissive attitudes could serve as barriers to seeking help, and therefore additional efforts should be made to ensure young people feel comfortable seeking help.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-511
Number of pages8
JournalChild and Adolescent Mental Health
Issue number4
Early online date21 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • suicide
  • self-harm
  • self-injury
  • suicidal behaviour
  • qualitative methods


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