How much is enough? Examining frequency criteria for NSSI disorder in adolescent inpatients

Jennifer J. Muehlenkamp*, Amy M. Brausch, Jason J. Washburn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Objective: To empirically evaluate the diagnostic relevance of the proposed Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; APA, 2013) Criterion-A frequency threshold for nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) disorder. Method: Archival, de-identified, self-reported clinical assessment data from 746 adolescent psychiatric patients (Mage = 14.97; 88% female; 76% White) were used. The sample was randomly split into 2 unique samples for data analyses. Measures included assessments of NSSI, proposed DSM-5 NSSI-disorder criteria, psychopathology, dysfunction, distress, functional impairment, and suicidality. Results: Discriminant-function analyses run with Sample A identified a significant differentiation of groups based on a frequency of NSSI at 25 or more days in the past year, Î =.814, Ï ‡2(54) = 72.59, p <.05, canonical R2 =.36. This cutoff was replicated in the second sample. All patients were coded into 1 of 3 empirically derived NSSI-frequency cutoff groups: high (>25 days), moderate (5-24 days), and low (1-4 days) and compared. The high-NSSI group scored higher on most NSSI features, including DSM-5-proposed Criterion-B and -C symptoms, depression, psychotic symptoms, substance abuse, borderline personality-disorder features, suicidal ideation, and suicide plans, than the moderate- and low-NSSI groups, who did not differ from each other on many of the variables. Conclusion: The currently proposed DSM-5 Criterion-A frequency threshold for NSSI disorder lacks validity and clinical utility. The field needs to consider raising the frequency threshold to ensure that a meaningful and valid set of diagnostic criteria are established, and to avoid overpathologizing individuals who infrequently engage in NSSI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-619
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • DSM-5
  • disorder
  • nonsuicidal self-injury
  • psychopathology
  • self-harm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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