Sociology, Department of


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Published in Social Science & Medicine 70:2 (January 2010), pp. 269–276; doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.10.008 Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


Although self-mutilation has been studied from medical and individual perspectives, it has rarely been examined within a social stress context. As such, we use a social stress framework to examine risk factors for self-mutilation to determine whether status strains that are often associated with poorer health outcomes in the general population are also associated with self-mutilation among a sample of young adults in the United States who have a history of homelessness. Data are drawn from the Homeless Young Adult Project which involved interviews with 199 young adults in 3 Midwestern United States cities. The results of our path analyses revealed that numerous stressors including running away, substance use, sexual victimization, and illegal subsistence strategies were associated with more self-mutilation. In addition, we found that certain social statuses exacerbate the risk for self-mutilation beyond the respondents’ current situation of homelessness. We discuss the implications of our findings for the social stress framework and offer suggestions for studying this unique population within this context.

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