Gendered risk factors associated with self-harm mortality among youth in South Africa, 2006 - 2014

N de Wet


Background. Despite efforts to reduce self-harm mortality, death rates remain high, with almost 12% of all youth deaths in South Africa (SA) attributed to this cause. There are gendered differences in causes of death among youth, but little is known about the sex-specific risk factors.

Objective. To identify the levels and sex-specific determinants of self-harm mortality among youth in SA.

Methods. This was a cross-sectional study of SA death notification forms from 2006 to 2014. Descriptive and analytical statistical techniques were used, including cause-specific mortality rates, proportional mortality ratios and logistic regression models.

Results. A total of 1 122 youth (15 - 24 years of age) deaths due to self-harm causes were reported over the study period, during which rates of self-harm mortality increased. More deaths of males (n=818) than females (n=304) were reported. Almost 60% of deaths (p<0.05) were of 20 - 24-year-olds, and 46.4% (p<0.05) of those who died had a secondary education. Almost 10% of females (p<0.05) were pregnant at the time of death. Hanging was the most common type of self-harm mortality among males (79.2%) and females (49.3%). While 11.0% (n=90) of self-harm deaths of males were due to poisoning, more females used this method (39.8%, n=121). The probability of self-harm mortality for males increased according to certain provinces of residence. For females the odds were higher for those who were pregnant (odds ratio (OR) 1.3; p<0.05) and non-South African (OR 1.7; p<0.05) and had secondary education (OR 1.4; p<0.05).

Conclusions. The study showed gender differentials in the determinants of self-harm mortality among youth in SA. For this reason, uniform approaches to awareness campaigns need to be altered to address the specific needs of youth. While males have higher rates than females, the prevalence of self-harm mortality in pregnant females is of concern and needs to be addressed specifically, as it relates not only to suicidal ideation and behaviour but also to youth sexual and reproductive health programmes in the country.


Author's affiliations

N de Wet, Demography and Population Studies, Schools of Social Sciences and Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Self-harm mortality; Youth; South Africa; Gender; Regression

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(12):1132-1136. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i12.12652

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-11-27
Date published: 2017-11-27

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