Article

Differentiating adolescent self-injury from adolescent depression: Possible implications for borderline personality development

Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (Impact Factor: 3.09). 01/2012; 40:45-57. DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9578-3
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Self-inflicted injury (SII) in adolescence marks heightened risk for suicide attempts, completed suicide, and adult psychopathology. Although several studies have revealed elevated rates of depression among adolescents who self injure, no one has compared adolescent self injury with adolescent depression on biological, self-, and informant-report markers of vulnerability and risk. Such a comparison may have important implications for treatment, prevention, and developmental models of self injury and borderline personality disorder. We used a multi-method, multi-informant approach to examine how adolescent SII differs from adolescent depression. Self-injuring, depressed, and typical adolescent females (n = 25 per group) and their mothers completed measures of psychopathology and emotion regulation, among others. In addition, we assessed electrodermal responding (EDR), a peripheral biomarker of trait impulsivity. Participants in the SII group (a) scored higher than depressed adolescents on measures of both externalizing psychopathology and emotion dysregulation, and (b) exhibited attenuated EDR, similar to patterns observed among impulsive, externalizing males. Self-injuring adolescents also scored higher on measures of borderline pathology. These findings reveal a coherent pattern of differences between self-injuring and depressed adolescent girls, consistent with theories that SII differs from depression in etiology and developmental course.

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    ABSTRACT: Although the dexamethasone suppression test (DST) has limited use as a biomarker of depression given inadequate sensitivity and specificity, it marks prospective risk for suicide among adults. However, few studies have examined associations between the DST, suicidal ideation, and self-inflicted injury (SII) among adolescents, even though SII is the single best predictor of eventual suicide. We evaluated the DST as a correlate of suicidal ideation and retrospective reports of self-inflicted injury (SII) among adolescent girls, ages 13-17, with histories of depression (n = 28) or depression and self-harm (n = 29). Lower post-DST cortisol was associated with suicidal ideation and SII, over-and-above parent-reports and combined parent-/self-reports of internalizing and externalizing behavior. These findings are consistent with recent acquired capacity models of stress-related psychopathology in which hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis function is altered through epigenetic/allostatic mechanisms among vulnerable individuals who incur adversity early in life.
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