Mental health

At a glance

How do young people go from thinking about self-harm to acting on their thoughts?

Lead researcher

Professor Rory O’Connor


University of Glasgow



Amount awarded


Last updated



Although researchers have identified many risk factors associated with self-harm, it is difficult to distinguish between those who think about self-harm and those who engage in it.

Extending previous research, Professor O’Connor’s experimental pilot study aims to determine the extent to which young people’s emotional processing, as indexed by their electrodermal activity, is associated with self-harm and to better understand the transition from thoughts of self-harm to acts of self-harm.

This will be the largest-ever study of electrodermal activity and self-harm in young people.


The research findings will increase understanding of the complex pathways to self-harm and potentially suicide, reduce the risk of future self-harm and suicide and identify treatment targets for clinical intervention.

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What we're hoping to determine is whether an index, what we call electrodermal processing - will that differentiate people who have thoughts of self-harm and those who act on those thoughts? We think this is important, as it could give us a marker, a target for us to then think about if we're trying to help and support, as well as identify those who are most vulnerable. Professor Rory O’Connor, University of Glasgow

Mental health - Eating disorders and self-harm

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Despite an increase in young people affected by eating disorders and self-harm, there is still limited research focusing on what causes these devastating mental health problems. As many as one in six teenagers have self-harmed at some point, and self-harm is the strongest known risk factor for suicide. Eating disorders are also common, affecting around 15 per cent of young women and over three per cent of young men.

    Although up to half of people with an eating disorder have self-harmed, we also know little about why these mental health problems often occur together.

    Building on a previous £1.3 million investment in eating disorders and self-harm research by the Foundation and the MRC (part of UK Research and Innovation), these new research projects will improve our understanding of what causes these conditions and ultimately, it is hoped these insights will lead to earlier intervention and better treatments.

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