Exploring Gender Differences in Severity of Childhood Maltreatment and Family Dysfunction in Adolescents Engaged in Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Emma Cho, BS, BA

McLean Hospital
Exploring Gender Differences in Severity of Childhood Maltreatment and Family Dysfunction in Adolescents Engaged in Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

Scientific Abstract

Background: Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), defined as the deliberate destruction of one’s own body tissue in the absence of the intent to die, is a growing problem among children and adolescents that is important in its own right, and also because it is linked to higher risk of suicide, the second leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds.

Prior work suggests NSSI may be more prevalent in females and may be more common among those suffering from childhood maltreatment. We sought to test the relationship between gender, maltreatment exposure, self-injurious behavior, and family functioning among youth engaging in NSSI vs. typically-developing controls (TDC).

Methods: We examined data from N=56 NSSI (Mage=14.41±1.55, 71% female) and N=24 TDCs (Mage=13.29±1.71, 46% female) in an IRB-approved study. We used the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire-Short Form (CTQ-SF) to measure childhood maltreatment exposure, the Family Assessment Device (FAD) to measure family function, and the Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview (SITBI) to measure NSSI history. Data analysis in SPSS used Pearson correlations and independent samples t-tests.

Results: Among NSSI participants, females had significantly higher CTQ-SF total scores and emotional abuse, physical neglect, and sexual abuse sub-scores than males. Also, females with a history of NSSI reported significantly higher family dysfunction than males in problem solving, affective involvement, behavior control, and roles. There was no significant difference in CTQ or FAD scores for female and male TDCs. Interestingly, there were no significant correlations between CTQ or FAD scores and reported lifetime instances of NSSI for either females or males.

Conclusions: Our results found that rates of childhood maltreatment and family dysfunction were higher in females versus males with a history of NSSI but not for TDCs. However, this differential exposure was not related to a difference in reported lifetime instances of NSSI. Future research is necessary to further investigate the relationship between child maltreatment, family functioning, and NSSI risk for adolescents across gender identities.

SoundCloud Transcript

Hello, my name is Emma Cho. I am a research assistant with the PediMIND Program at McLean Hospital, and this is my poster on gender differences in severity of childhood maltreatment and family dysfunction in adolescents engaged in non-suicidal self-injury.

 

Non-suicidal self-injury, or NSSI, is a growing problem among children and adolescents. Prior research suggests that NSSI may be more prevalent in females and among those suffering from or exposed to childhood maltreatment. In order to learn more about how these factors might confer risk for NSSI, we sought to explore the relationship between gender, maltreatment exposure, family functioning, and self-injurious behavior among two groups of adolescents – those currently engaging in NSSI and typically-developing controls with no history of self-injury.

 

Participants completed a number of surveys as part of their participation in the study, and we used the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, or the CTQ, to measure childhood maltreatment exposure, the Family Assessment Device, or the FAD, to measure family function, and the Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview, or the SITBI, to measure lifetime history of NSSI.

 

We found that there were significantly more female-identifying participants in the NSSI group compared to the control group, and that the NSSI group endorsed significantly higher rates of maltreatment compared to the control group, supporting the idea that NSSI is more common among females and those with maltreatment exposure. Additionally, among NSSI participants, females reported significantly higher rates of maltreatment and family dysfunction in multiple areas compared to males, while there was no significant difference in CTQ or FAD scores for female and male typically developing controls. Interestingly, the differential exposure to maltreatment and family dysfunction in female versus male NSSI participants was not related to a difference in reported lifetime instances of NSSI on the SITBI, and a MANOVA failed to find a significant interaction between group membership and gender on CTQ and FAD subscores.

 

Future research is necessary to further investigate the relationship between childhood maltreatment, family functioning, and NSSI risk for adolescents across gender identities.

 

Live Zoom Session – April 21st

research Areas

Authors

Emma Cho, BS, Gracie Jenkins, BS, Lena DeYoung, BS, Christine Barthelemy, BS, Daniel Dickstein, MD

Principal Investigator

Daniel Dickstein, MD

Affiliated Website