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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Rates, risk factors & methods of self harm among minority ethnic groups in the UK: a systematic review

Kamaldeep Bhui12*, Kwame McKenzie34 and Farhat Rasul1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Psychiatry, Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, Old Anatomy Building, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6BQ, UK

2 East London & City Mental Health Trust, London, UK

3 Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, Toronto University, Toronto, Canada

4 University College London, London, UK

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:336  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-336

Published: 19 November 2007



Studies suggest that the rates of self harm vary by ethnic group, but the evidence for variation in risk factors has not been synthesised to inform preventive initiatives.


We undertook a systematic literature review of research about self harm that compared at least two ethnic groups in the United Kingdom.


25 publications from 1765 titles and abstracts met our inclusion criteria. There was higher rate of self harm among South Asian women, compared with South Asian men and White women. In a pooled estimate from two studies, compared to their white counterparts, Asian women were more likely to self harm (Relative Risk 1.4, 95%CI: 1.1 to 1.8, p = 0.005), and Asian men were less likely to self harm (RR 0.5, 95% CI: 0.4 to 0.7, p < 0.001). Some studies concluded that South Asian adults self-harm impulsively in response to life events rather than in association with a psychiatric illness. Studies of adolescents showed similar methods of self harm and interpersonal disputes with parents and friends across ethnic groups. There were few studies of people of Caribbean, African and other minority ethnic groups, few studies took a population based and prospective design and few investigated self harm among prisoners, asylum seekers and refugees.


This review finds some ethnic differences in the nature and presentation of self harm. This argues for ethnic specific preventive actions. However, the literature does not comprehensively cover the UK's diverse ethnic groups.