Lower cortisol level in response to a psychosocial stressor in young females with self-harm
Background: Self-harm is highly prevalent in adolescence, often serving an emotion regulation function. Social stressors such as bullying are associated with self-harm. The neurobiological background of the relationship between social stressors and self-harm needs to be further understood to inform prevention and therapy. Methods: Participants were members of an epidemiological cohort study. 130 female participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) at age 19. Of them, 21 reported a history of self-harm as assessed by the Youth Self Report. Psychiatric diagnoses were recorded. Results: Participants with a history of self-harm showed significantly lower blood cortisol levels throughout the TSST. Early psychosocial adversity did not significantly differ between groups with and without self-harm, with self-harming participants reporting more childhood adversities. Conclusion: These results add to the limited field of studies showing an altered HPA axis activity in females with self-harm. Future studies need to address the causal mechanisms behind this association.
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