Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Marc Karver, Ph.D.


Suicide, Self-injury, Risky behavior, College students, Young adults


Suicidality and non-suicidal self-injury are highly prevalent on college campuses and death by suicide is the number two cause of death for that age demographic. Even with such a deadly public health concern, little is known about how self-harm behavior can be prevented or effectively treated. Research has suggested that differences in affect regulation may differentiate those who engage in self-harm from those who do not, but many of these studies have examined disparate pieces of affect regulation without addressing the overlap and interaction of regulatory behaviors. The field must discover what specific aspects of affect regulation go awry, if self-harmers demonstrate a different pattern of affect regulatory strategies, and if subtypes of persons who engage in self-harm have different patterns of affect regulation that will need to be addressed differently in treatment and prevention efforts.

The purpose of this study is to explore these associations between affect regulation, specifically emotion regulation and coping, and self-harm behaviors. Two-hundred and fifty undergraduates completed surveys on emotion regulation, coping strategies, and health-risk behavior. An extremely high prevalence of self-harm and risky behavior was discovered (nearly 47% endorsing self-harm and 86% endorsing risky behavior). Results from three different measures of emotion regulation and coping strategies were factor analyzed to produce three factors, corresponding to maladaptive, active adaptive, and passive adaptive (distress tolerance) affect regulation strategies. Persons with and without a history of self-harm behavior endorsed similar levels of adaptive affect regulation strategy utilization, but those with a history of self-harm behavior had much higher utilization of maladaptive affect regulation strategies.

Similar patterns of affect regulation strategy utilization were found for persons engaging in risky behavior (sexual, alcohol, illicit substances, disordered eating, safety, and smoking) and all subtypes of persons engaging in self-harm (i.e., non-suicidal self-injury, suicide attempts, or both). Those who had engaged in self-harm could be differentiated from participants with no history of self-harm behavior or ideation on the basis of their utilization of maladaptive affect regulation strategies. Implications for prevention and intervention are discussed.