[RESEARCH INSIDER] Self-harm: What do our genes have to do with it?

(Photo: Unsplash/Kristina Tripkovic)

Research Insider this week gets up close with Kai Xiang Lim who is in his second year pursuing a PhD in Social, Genetics and Developmental Psychiatry Research at King’s College London, UK. He uses genetic information to investigate the underlying causes of self-harm behaviours and their relationships with mental health conditions. Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact. 


What got you into your research field?

My curiosity in how the human mind works drove me to study psychology as my undergraduate degree. In my course, I learnt that human behaviours can be influenced by genetic factors and was amazed by that. During my final year dissertation, I had a chance to learn more advanced statistical analyses to analyse a huge twin data. my supervisor encouraged me to go further into research, and I ended up starting a PhD in psychiatry genomics.  

Kai Xiang is in his second year pursuing his PhD in Social, Genetics and Developmental Psychiatry Research at King’s College London

What is the novelty of your research?

As far as we are informed, our paper is the first that used genetic information to help strengthen the causal inference for risk factors of self-harm systematically in a large group of people. Many classical observational studies researching self-harm can be impaired by factors that were not controlled, and as the saying goes, “correlation does not mean causation”. By using genetic data, we can be more confident in the direction of causality, and subsequently identify the most plausible risk factors for self-harm. 

Why is your research important?

By knowing the most plausible causal risk factors for self-harm, clinicians will be able to identify patients who are at higher risks of self-harm. Our research also showed that the causal risk factors of suicidal and non-suicidal self-harm are not so different, suggesting that they have the same underlying causes from a genetic perspective. 

What is the SDG impact of your research?

My research shows that mental health is important and should be focused on in self-harm interventions and suicide prevention policies if we aspire to promote good health and well-being. It highlights the importance of early detection and treatment of mental health conditions and psychiatric symptoms in order to reduce the risk of self-harm and suicide in the general population.

Watch the fifth episode of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Kai Xiang

**All previous posts about Research Insider: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/research-insider/

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