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OBJECTIVE: Controlled studies have shown deliberate self-harm to be more common in abused populations, but no controlled studies have shown abuse to be more common in self-harming populations. This is the first controlled study to determine whether abuse experiences (sexual, physical, and psychological) occurred more commonly in women who take overdoses than in controls. METHOD: The design was a matched (1:1) case-control study set in a district general hospital in England. The subjects were 36 women admitted following deliberate self-poisoning. They were matched with the next non-overdose admission to the same hospital on six variables (sex, age, ethnicity, social class, marital status, and geographical locality). The main outcome measures used were modified versions of standardized self-report questionnaires of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, together with measures of parenting style and general psychopathology. RESULTS: Women who had taken an overdose were more likely (odds ratio 15.0, 95% confidence interval 2.0 to 113.6) to have been sexually abused, and somewhat more likely to have been psychologically (1.02, 1.00 to 1.05) but not physically abused. They also had higher measures of psychopathology (GHQ-30: 1.19, 1.07 to 1.31), were more likely to have been abused at a younger age, exposed to the "affectionless control" style of parenting by their mothers, and to have harmed themselves in other ways. CONCLUSIONS: The management of women presenting to hospital after self-poisoning should include assessment of abuse experiences, and instigation of appropriate treatment in those with significant sequelae of abuse.

Original publication




Journal article


Child Abuse Negl

Publication Date





1291 - 1302


Adolescent, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Case-Control Studies, Child Abuse, Sexual, England, Female, Hospitalization, Hospitals, General, Humans, Middle Aged, Poisoning, Rape, Risk Factors, Self-Injurious Behavior, Socioeconomic Factors, Suicide, Attempted