Exposure to Community Violence and Self-harm in California

Background: Self-harm is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Exposure to community violence is an important and potentially modifiable feature of the social environment that may affect selfharm, but studies to date are limited in the samples and outcomes examined.

Methods: We conducted a population-based, nested case–control study. Cases were all deaths and hospital visits due to self-harm in California, 2006–2013. We frequency-matched California resident population-based controls from the American Community Survey to cases on age, gender, race/ethnicity, and year of survey/injury. We assessed past-year community violence using deaths and hospital visits due to interpersonal violence in the community of residence. We estimated risk difference parameters that were defined to avoid extrapolation and to capture associations between changes in the distribution of community violence and the population-level risk of self-harm.

Results: After adjustment for confounders, setting past-year community violence to the lowest monthly levels observed within each community over the study period was associated with a 30.1 (95% confidence interval = 29.6, 30.5) per 100,000 persons per year lower risk of nonfatal self-harm but no difference in the risk of fatal self-harm. Associations for a parameter corresponding to a hypothetical violence prevention intervention targeting high-violence communities indicated a 5% decrease in nonfatal self-harm at the population level. In sensitivity analyses, results were robust.

Conclusions: This study strengthens evidence on the relationship between community violence and self-harm. Future research should investigate reasons for differential associations by age and gender and whether community violence prevention programs have meaningful impacts on self-harm.