dcyphr | Psychological pain and self-harming behaviours in an adulthood community sample: An exploratory study


This study explores the influence which psychological pain may have on an individual’s self-harming tendencies. 207 individuals participated, providing socio-demographic information, clinical information, and responding to the Psychache Scale (psychological pain rating method). Covariables such as drug use and patient interactions with psychiatrists were accounted for. Overall findings suggest that psychological pain “significantly contributes in predicting self-harming behaviours.”


According to Shneidman, suicidal behaviour develops if and only if an individual experiences extreme psychological pain (deemed psychache). Recent meta-analyses have confirmed this cause and effect relationship. With this being said, this paper focuses on the effect psychological pain has on self harming habits, as opposed to suicide. While self harming is not characterized by a desire to end one’s life, it is often considered a step along the suicide process.  


Demographic information, including sex, age, marital status, education, and employment status of 207 individuals was recorded. Chronic physical disease, prior psychological diagnosis, and drug use were also noted. Any patients responding positively to one or more of these variables were asked further follow up questions (for example, which drugs they’re taking). 

Next, the Psychache Scale (13 item test, with answers on a 5 point scale, for assessing psychological pain) was used to determine the condition of patients. This scale is used in many universities and professional settings and its validity is widely accepted. 

Finally, patients were asked about their self-harming habits. The questioning began with a general statement asking them if they’ve ever tried to overdose on medications, tried to burn themselves, tried to cut themselves, etc. In the case a of a positive response, further questions were asked about when the events took place and how many times they occurred. Self harm was defined as deliberate attempts to harm or injure oneself without seeking a fatal outcome. 


Chronic physical disease was reported by 23.8% of participants, psychiatric diagnosis was reported in 21.8%, and non-prescription drug use was reported by 53.7%. The average Psychache Scale score was 32.24 and 28% (58 patients) reported self harming. 22 of these 28 reported self harming on multiple occasions. Drugs, medications, alcohol, cutting, scrubbing, and burning were noted as the most common forms of self harm. 

Previous psychiatric diagnosis and drug use were the only co-variables which were associated with self-harming. “Psychological pain provided a significant contribution to self-harming behaviours,” even after factoring out these variables. The Psychache scores recorded correlated with the frequency of self harm.   


The data presented in this study shows that psychological pain has a significant impact on the occurrence of self harm. The paper notes that the severity of self harm must be carefully analyzed and emphasizes the importance of suicide prevention measures. The transition from self harm to suicide ideation and ultimately suicidal attempts is swift and dangerous, making safety initiatives essential. The study recognizes the limitations that come from asking individuals to self report about their condition, actions, and psychological state (and having all this done online).