Substance use and self-harm: a cross-sectional study of the prevalence, correlates and patterns of medical service utilisation among patients admitted to a South African hospital

Journal Article


Journal Title

BMC Health Services Research

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

BioMed Central


University of Cape Town

Abstract Background Substance use is a potentially modifiable risk factor for suicidal behaviour. Little is known about the epidemiology of substance use among self-harm patients in South Africa. This study set out to collect epidemiological data about the prevalence, correlates, and patterns of medical service utilisation among self-harm patients who used substances at the time of self-injury. Methods Data from 238 consecutive self-harm patients treated at an urban hospital in South Africa were analysed using bivariate and multivariate statistics. Results Approximately 20% of patients reported substance use at the time of self-harm. When compared to other self-harm patients, higher rates of patients who had used substances: had depressed levels of consciousness on admission; utilised more medical resources and required longer hospital admissions; cited relationship difficulties and financial concerns as reasons for their self-harm; reported a previous episode of self-harm; and intended to die as a result of their injuries. Although the observed differences were not statistically significant (p > 0.05), the proportional differences were congruent with international literature. Conclusion Acute use of substances among self-harm patients warrants more focused research and clinical attention particularly in the context of reducing utilisation of scarce medical resources.