Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 46, Issue 11, pp 1115–1125 | Cite as

Living alone and deliberate self-harm: a case–control study of characteristics and risk factors

  • Camilla HawEmail author
  • Keith Hawton
Original Paper



An increasing proportion of the UK population live alone. Little is known about deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients who live alone. We conducted a study of the characteristics of DSH patients who live alone using data from the Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide.


Data on patients presenting to the general hospital in Oxford with an episode of DSH between 1993 and 2006 were analysed by gender and age group (15–24 years, 25–54 years and 55+ years) and according to whether or not they lived alone.


In total, 1,163/7,865 (14.8%) patients lived alone. Having a problem with social isolation was more common in those living alone compared with those living with others, especially in those aged 55+ years. In the 25–54 years age group several variables concerning psychiatric problems were more common in those living alone, as was higher suicide intent associated with the current DSH episode and past DSH, and for females, repetition of DSH within 12 months. In patients aged 55+ years those living alone were more likely to have problems due to bereavement. Significantly more individuals living alone died from any cause. More also died by suicide, although the difference between the groups was non-significant after adjusting for age.


These results have implications for psychiatric services assessing DSH patients who live alone, since, depending on the patient’s age and living circumstances, different psychiatric and social interventions may be needed. Middle-aged DSH patients who live alone appear to be particularly vulnerable. DSH patients who live alone may not have supportive social networks and may be at increased risk of repetition of DSH and suicide.


Deliberate self-harm Social isolation Living alone Suicide intent Repetition 



Our thanks to Helen Bergen for statistical advice. We thank the staff of the Department of Psychological Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital for their considerable assistance with the data collection and Liz Bale, Deborah Casey and Anna Shepherd for data management. The Oxford Monitoring System for Attempted Suicide is funded by the Department of Health. The views expressed are solely those of the authors. Keith Hawton is supported by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and is a National Institute for Health Research Senior Investigator. Camilla Haw is supported by St. Andrew’s Healthcare, Northampton.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Suicide ResearchOxfordUK
  2. 2.St Andrew’s HealthcareNorthamptonEngland, UK

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