Is Self-Harm A Sign of Depression: Know The Link To Stop This Horrible Act

Do you ever feel like life is spinning out of control? That it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the chaotic pace and that everything feels hopeless?

If so, you may be experiencing depression and in some cases, self-harm can manifest as one of its symptoms.  In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the query ‘is self-harm a sign of depression’ and understand why it happens and discuss how you can get help if needed.

We know talking about mental health struggles isn’t always easy, but by opening ourselves up to understanding more about our feelings — even when they’re difficult to express — we can make strides towards a healthier future. Let’s start by exploring what motivates people to harm themselves in the first place.

8 Major Signs of Self-Harm

Self-harm can take many forms, and it is essential to be aware of some common signs that may indicate a person is engaging in self-harm. Here are eight signs of self-harm:

  1. Unexplained wounds or scars: People who engage in self-harm frequently have cuts or bruises on their bodies that do not have an obvious cause. These wounds may be in places that are easily hidden such as the inner arms, legs, or torso.
  2. Wearing long sleeves or pants even when it is hot outside:  People who do self-harm often try to hide their wounds by wearing long clothes even on days when it is hot outside.
  3. Isolating from family and friends: People who are obsessed with self-harm may try to isolate themselves from their loved ones, as they do not want them to discover their wounds or scars.
  4. Low self-esteem: People who are preoccupied with self-harm often have very low levels of self-esteem and do not think highly of their own worth.
  5. Saying negative things about themselves: People who indulge in self-harm often have a habit of speaking very negatively about themselves to others or even out loud to themselves.
  6. Unusual spending habits: Self-harming individuals may start purchasing objects that can be used for cutting or other forms of harm, such as razor blades or sharp objects.
  7. Poor hygiene: People who are immersed in self-harm often stop taking care of themselves or their appearance and may neglect basic hygiene habits such as showering or brushing their teeth regularly.
  8. Excessive drug/alcohol use: Substance abuse is often linked to self-harm and individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain they feel.

8 Main Forms of Self-Harm

It is important to be aware of the common forms of self-harm, as this can help recognize potential signs in yourself or others. Here are eight forms of self-harm:

  1. Cutting: This is one of the most common forms of self-injury and involves using a sharp object such as a blade or razor to make shallow cuts on the skin.
  2. Burning: This type of self-harm involves using a lighter, matches or hot objects to burn the skin or other parts of the body.
  3. Scratching: This self-harming behavior includes scratching at one’s own skin with nails or other sharp objects such as pins or needles.
  4. Hair pulling: This form of self-harm involves pulling out one’s own hair, usually from the scalp or eyebrows.
  5. Hitting objects: People who engage in this form of self-harm will often hit themselves with a hard object such as a fist or a blunt instrument like a hammer.
  6. Biting: This type of self-harm involves biting one’s own skin or other body parts in order to inflict pain.
  7. Excessive exercise: People who indulge in this form of self-harm will often push themselves beyond healthy levels of physical activity, resulting in harm such as stress fractures and muscle tears.
  8. Self-poisoning: This kind of self-harm involves ingesting toxic substances such as drugs, alcohol and cleaning solutions in order to harm oneself.

6 Major Causes of Self-Harm

Self-harm can be a symptom of underlying psychological issues. It is essential to understand the potential causes of self-harm to help those struggling with this issue. Below are five common causes of self-harm:

1. Traumatic Experiences

Traumatic experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, can lead to long-term emotional distress which may manifest itself in the form of self-harm. Individuals who experienced trauma may find that self-harm provides a sense of relief from their pain and suffering.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • The feeling of helplessness or powerlessness
  • Intense feelings of guilt and/or shame
  • Difficulty expressing emotions verbally
  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Hypervigilance- an increased sense of being on alert at all times
  • Nightmares related to the trauma.

Hands in Dark - Is Self-Harm A Sign of Depression

2. Difficult Emotions

Feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger can also lead to self-harm. When an individual is overwhelmed by difficult emotions, they may find that engaging in self-harm provides a sense of control and relief from their psychological distress.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • Feeling disconnected from others or the world around them
  • Uncontrollable emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks, activities, or conversations
  • Easily overwhelmed in social situations
  • Constantly feeling on edge and anxious
  • Inability to express emotions productively.

3. Personality Disorders

Individuals who struggle with certain personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, may find themselves engaging in self-harm. This is due to the difficulty they have regulating their emotions and dealing with feelings of emptiness.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • A need for constant validation from others
  • Intense fear of abandonment
  • Unstable or labile moods, feeling happy one moment and then sad the next
  • Difficulties maintaining relationships with others
  • An inability to maintain healthy boundaries in relationships
  • Extremely high levels of self-criticism and self-doubt.

4. Social Isolation

Those who feel isolated or alone may engage in self-harm as a way to cope with their loneliness and isolation. When an individual feels disconnected from others, they may resort to self-harm as a way of coping with their distress and pain.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • Feeling misunderstood or unseen by their family and friend
  • A feeling of being trapped in difficult situations
  • Low self-esteem and high levels of self-doubt
  • Excessive rumination on negative thoughts
  • Struggling to find joy or pleasure in activities or people.

5. Poor Coping Skills

Individuals who have difficulty managing stress and difficult emotions may turn to self-harm as a way of coping. Poor coping skills can lead an individual to rely on unhealthy behaviors, such as self-harm, as a method to deal with their distress.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • Inability to regulate emotions in healthy ways
  • Avoidance of stressful situations or conversations
  • Relying on the use of drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • Overreacting to minor issues or conflicts
  • Engaging in impulsive behaviors to cope with stress
  • Difficulty setting healthy boundaries with others.

6. Impulse Control Issues

Individuals who have difficulty controlling their impulses may be more likely to engage in self-harm as a way of managing their emotions and frustrations. When an individual is unable to control their impulses, they may use self-harm as an outlet for their distress.

Here are a few more related causes:

  • Difficulty managing anger or frustration
  • Engaging in risky behaviors without considering the consequences
  • A tendency to act out impulsively when feeling overwhelmed
  • An inability to think before they act or speak
  • Uncontrollable urges to do something that may be harmful
  • Engaging in dangerous activities without considering the risks.

6 Risk Factors of Self-Harm

Self-harm is a serious and complex issue that can have devastating consequences. It is important to understand the risk factors associated with self-harm in order to identify and intervene early if needed.

Understanding the underlying causes of self-harm and developing strategies for prevention and intervention can help individuals struggling with self-harming behaviors receive the support they need. Below are five risk factors for self-harm.

1. Physical Health Risk Factors

The physical health risks of self-harm can be severe and long-lasting. Long-term damage to skin, nerves, muscles and other parts of the body is a possible result of engaging in self-harming behaviors.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Permanent scars or disfigurement
  • Damage to the skin, muscles, and nerves
  • Risk of infection from unsterilized instruments
  • Painful sensations in the area where harm was inflicted
  • Increased risk of suicide or accidental death
  • Development of physical illnesses from long-term use of drugs or alcohol.

2. Mental Health Risk Factors

The mental health risks associated with self-harm can be severe. Engaging in self-harming behaviors can increase the risk of developing more serious mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Additionally, self-harm can be a sign of an underlying mental health disorder and should be addressed by a qualified professional.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Increase in feelings of shame and guilt
  • Higher risk of developing depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships with others
  • Increased chance of developing an eating disorder
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress or difficult emotions
  • Difficulty managing other mental health conditions.

3. Social Risk Factors

The social risks associated with self-harm can be difficult to manage. Individuals who engage in self-harming behaviors often feel ashamed and embarrassed, leading to isolation and difficulty forming positive relationships with others. Additionally, self-harming behaviors can lead to rejection or ostracization from family and friends.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Isolation from family, friends, and peers
  • Fear of being judged or rejected due to self-harming behaviors
  • Difficulty forming positive relationships
  • Ostracism from family and friends
  • Inability to cope with difficult social situations
  • Feelings of shame and embarrassment.

4. Legal Risk Factors

The legal risks associated with self-harm can be serious. Depending on the severity or nature of the self-harm, individuals may be subject to criminal charges and legal action. Additionally, some states have laws that allow minors to be charged with a crime if they engage in self-harming behaviors.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Criminal charges for engaging in certain types of self-harm
  • Parental or legal guardianship charges if self-harming behaviors are discovered
  • Possibility of being placed in a juvenile detention facility
  • Risk of imprisonment for severe cases of self-harm
  • Being required to attend mental health treatment programs as part of probation
  • Fines and other financial penalties.

5. Emotional Risk Factors

The emotional risks associated with self-harm can be serious. Self-harming behaviors may lead to guilt, shame, and anger, which can impact an individual’s mental health. Additionally, individuals with self-harming behaviors are at a higher risk of developing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Increased levels of anger and aggression towards oneself and others
  • Difficulty managing stress and difficult emotions in healthy ways
  • An inability to express emotions in a healthy manner
  • Low self-esteem.

6. Suicidal Thoughts

The risk of suicidal thoughts associated with self-harm is high. Individuals who engage in self-harming behaviors are at a higher risk of developing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide. Additionally, certain types of self-harm, such as cutting and burning, can be seen as signs of serious mental health issues that should be addressed by a qualified professional.

Here are a few more related risk factors:

  • Increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Difficulty managing stress and difficult emotions in healthy ways
  • Heightened feelings of despair, hopelessness, and loneliness
  • Impulsivity and recklessness in regard to one’s own safety
  • A lack of social support and feeling isolated or disconnected from others
  • Negative thought patterns include blaming oneself for things out of their control.

A Guilty Man

4 Major Links Between Self-Harm and Depression

Self-harm is a serious mental health issue that can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and even death. It is important to understand the link between self-harm and depression in order to better recognize warning signs and provide support for those who are struggling with both conditions.

1. Irritability and Anger

One of the key indicators that someone is struggling with both depression and self-harm is an increase in irritability and anger. People who are depressed may become more easily frustrated and can have outbursts of rage over seemingly small issues.

Additionally, those who self-harm may experience feelings of guilt or shame after engaging in these behaviors which can lead to increased levels of anger and aggression.

Here are a few more related links:

  • Increased irritability and anger
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Impulsivity and recklessness in regard to one’s own safety
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • A lack of motivation and interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Difficulty managing stress and difficult emotions in healthy ways.

2. Apathy

Depression can lead to apathy, which is when a person no longer feels any real emotion or concern for the things they used to be interested in or care about. This lack of emotion can also manifest itself in the form of self-harm, as individuals may become numb to feelings of physical pain as a way to cope with their depression.

Here are a few more related links:

  • Increased apathy and a lack of motivation
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from others
  • Impulsivity in regard to one’s own safety
  • An inability to express emotions in a healthy manner.

3. Risky Behaviors

Depression and self-harm can also lead to an increase in risky behaviors. People who are struggling with depression may be more likely to engage in reckless or dangerous activities.

Similarly, those who are engaging in self-harm may be more likely to engage in behaviors that put them at greater risk of physical harm.

Here are a few more related links:

  • Engaging in reckless or dangerous activities such as drug use or unprotected sex
  • Increased impulsivity and risk-taking behavior
  • Heightened feelings of despair, hopelessness, and loneliness
  • Difficulty managing stress and difficult emotions in healthy ways
  • A lack of social support or feeling isolated from others.

4. Anhedonia

Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure or joy, and it is often one of the symptoms of depression. People who are affected by anhedonia may be more likely to self-harm as a way of seeking out relief from their emotional pain.

Additionally, those who indulge in self-harm may begin to feel numb to certain experiences, as the physical pain associated with self-harming may become more appealing than any sort of emotional pleasure.

Here are a few more related links:

  • Difficulty experiencing pleasure or joy
  • An inability to express emotions in a healthy manner
  • Engaging in reckless or dangerous activities as a way of numbing feelings.

Breaking Down the Myths Associated with Self-Harm

Self-harm is an issue that can be difficult to talk about, and as a result, many myths and misconceptions have been perpetuated about the subject. In reality, self-harm isn’t an indicator of mental illness or weakness—it’s simply a coping mechanism used by individuals who are struggling with their emotions.

Understanding this concept is essential in order to better support those who may be engaging in self-harm. In this article, we’re going to break down some of the common myths about self-harm and provide helpful information for anyone who is concerned about a friend or loved one.

  1. Self-Harm is Attention-Seeking Behavior: Self-harm is often misunderstood as a cry for attention, however, this could not be further from the truth. Those who self-harm typically seek relief from emotional pain or feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. It is a coping mechanism that masks the underlying issues and can have serious negative consequences.
  2. Self-Harm is a Form of Suicide: Self-harm and suicide are not the same things. While self-harm may be associated with suicidal ideation, it does not necessarily mean that a person intends to take their own life. Self-harm can be seen as a way of releasing emotional pain, and it can be a sign that a person needs help to address the underlying issues.
  3. Self-Harm is an Expression of Weakness: Self-harm is actually an expression of courage rather than weakness. It takes strength to reach out for help and take steps towards healing. People who self-harm often feel powerless or unable to express their emotions in healthy ways, but it does not mean that they are weak.
  4. Self-Harm is Only an Issue for Teenagers: Self-harm can affect people of all ages, including adults. It is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly or dismissed as a phase that a person will eventually grow out of.
  5. Self-Harm is Only for Women: Self-harm can damage individuals of all genders, backgrounds, and ages. It is a serious issue that should not be attributed to just one gender or demographic. Men and women alike can struggle with self-harm to cope with stress, trauma, or low self-esteem.
  6. Self-Harm Cannot be Treated: Self-harm is a serious issue and can have long-term consequences, however, it is treatable. Treatment often involves talking to professionals in order to address the underlying issues that are causing self-destructive behaviors. With proper treatment, individuals can learn healthier ways to cope with emotions and stress.

5 Ways How to Recover From Self-Harm

Self-harm is often used as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions, but it can have long-term consequences if left untreated. Recovery from self-harm takes time and dedication, but it is possible with the right help and support. Here are 5 ways to start your journey towards recovery:

  1. Reach Out for Professional Help: Seek out a therapist, counsellor, or mental health provider to receive support and guidance. Talking through your feelings with a trained professional can help you identify the root causes of your self-harming behaviors and find healthier ways to cope.
  2. Practice Self-Care: Make sure that you are engaging in activities that make you feel good. Make time for hobbies or activities that bring you joy, like listening to music, reading a book, or going for a walk.
  3. Connect with People: Spend time with friends and family members who can provide emotional support and help remind you of your worth and value. When feeling overwhelmed, reach out to those who can provide comfort and understanding.
  4. Make Changes: Recognize the triggers that lead to self-harming behaviors and take steps to address them. For example, if you find yourself engaging in self-harm when feeling stressed, create a plan of action for how to cope with stress instead (e.g. take a walk, practice deep breathing, write in a journal).
  5. Build Healthy Habits: Develop regular habits that can help support your recovery. This could include engaging in physical activity, eating healthy meals, and getting enough quality sleep. Dedicate time to building these habits and focus on the progress you’ve made, rather than how much further you have to go.

A Man Painting

5 Ways How to Prevent Someone from Self-Harm

Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism for intense emotions, but it can have serious emotional and physical consequences. If you are concerned about someone you care about engaging in self-harming behaviors, here are 5 ways to provide support and prevent self-harm:

1. Offer Support

The most important thing you can do is to offer your support and understanding. Let the person know that you are there for them and will listen without judgement. It’s also helpful to acknowledge the courage it takes to reach out for help.

Here are a few more related ways:

  • Show that you are willing to listen
  • Be non-judgmental and understanding
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Reassure them of their worth and value
  • Ask how you can best support them
  • Let them know they’re not alone

2. Create a Safety Plan

Help the person create a plan of action for when they feel tempted to self-harm. This could include distracting activities, deep breathing exercises, and reaching out to someone for support. Please encourage them to rely on these healthy coping mechanisms instead of self-harming behaviors.

Here are a few more related ways:

  • Identify activities that act as a distraction
  • Practice healthy coping strategies (e.g. deep breathing, exercise)
  • Make a list of people to reach out to for support
  • Set achievable goals and celebrate successes
  • Avoid triggers when possible
  • Develop an action plan for crises

3. Encourage Professional Help

If someone is engaging in self-harming behaviors, it’s important that they seek professional help. Urge them to talk to a therapist or mental health provider who can provide support and guidance for healing.

Here are a few more related ways:

  • Explain the importance of therapy
  • Assist in finding a therapist/counsellor
  • Help the person make an appointment
  • Offer to go with them for moral support
  • Reassure that therapy is confidential
  • Check-in regularly to see how they’re doing

4. Know Your Limits

Being supportive is important, but know your own limits. If the situation is too overwhelming or you’re feeling unsafe, it’s okay to step back and get help from a professional.

Here are a few more related ways:

  • Seek support for yourself
  • Take time out when needed
  • Set boundaries with others
  • Know when and how to get help
  • Don’t take things personally

5. Be Patient and Compassionate

Recovery from self-harm can be a long process, so it’s important to show patience and compassion throughout. Acknowledge the person’s efforts and celebrate even small successes throughout the recovery process.

Here are a few more related ways:

  • Praise all of their efforts
  • Celebrate milestones, however big or small
  • Remind them of their worth and value
  • Offer your unconditional support
  • Respect their decisions and feelings
  • Be understanding of setbacks or relapses

5  Effective Treatments for Self-Harm

Self-harm is a destructive behavior that can cause serious physical and emotional harm. It’s important to seek professional help if you or someone you know are engaging in self-harming behaviors. Here are 5 treatments for self-harm that can be used to successfully manage symptoms:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. It can help the person identify their triggers, reframe negative thoughts, and practice healthier coping skills.

Here are a few other related treatment tips:

  • Identify underlying thoughts and feelings
  • Reframe negative thought patterns
  • Practice healthy coping mechanisms
  • Build problem-solving skills
  • Increase self-esteem and self-worth
  • Learn to manage stress effectively

2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is another type of psychotherapy that concentrates on teaching the person skills to regulate their emotions. It also focuses on managing conflict and reducing self-harming behaviors.

Here are a few other related treatment tips:

  • Develop emotional regulation skills
  • Learn how to respond to stressful situations
  • Increase the ability to tolerate distress
  • Gain an understanding of suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Enhance interpersonal relationships

3. Group Therapy

Group therapy involves attending counselling sessions with a group of people who are all going through similar experiences. This can be beneficial as it allows members to learn from one another and find support in a non-judgmental environment.

Here are a few other related treatment tips:

  • Share experiences with others
  • Learn how to trust and open up
  • Practice healthy communication skills
  • Develop empathy and understanding
  • Find motivation and hope through shared stories
  • Receive support and feedback in a safe environment

4. Medication

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help with symptoms such as depression and anxiety, which can lead to self-harming behaviors. It is important to consult a doctor or psychiatrist before taking any medications.

Here are a few other related treatment tips:

  • Talk to a doctor or psychiatrist
  • Carefully consider all the risks
  • Regularly monitor side effects
  • Understand the interactions with other medications
  • Follow all instructions carefully
  • Seek medical help immediately if needed

5. Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies such as art, music, and movement can be helpful for self-harm recovery, as they provide an outlet for emotions. Engaging in these activities can help to reduce stress and increase feelings of calm and self-acceptance.

Here are a few other related treatment tips:

  • Express feelings through art, music, and movement
  • Use creative outlets to relieve stress
  • Foster a sense of calmness and relaxation
  • Develop self-awareness and insight
  • Increase self-acceptance and confidence
  • Learn healthy coping skills for difficult emotions


Ultimately, understanding self-harm as a sign of depression can be a difficult concept to confront. Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism when an individual feels overwhelmed or is unable to express their feelings in other ways.

For this reason, self-harm should never be taken lightly. Anyone struggling with thoughts of depression or distress should seek professional medical help immediately.

By taking preventative steps to address potential depression early on and not disregarding signs such as self-harm, we can continue to create a more open discourse surrounding mental health and create an environment where no one feels alone in their struggle with depression.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is self-harm a sign of depression?

Yes, self-harm can be a sign of depression. People who struggle with depression may use self-harm as an outlet for their negative emotions and feelings. Self-harming behavior can also be used to distract from the pain of depression and provide a sense of control in their lives.

Who is most likely to engage in self-harming behaviors?

People who have experienced trauma or abuse are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors due to their heightened sense of distress and difficulty managing intense emotions.

Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable to engaging in these behaviors due to their greater ability to identify with other people’s struggles and potential lack of coping skills due to inexperience.

Can medication treat depression-related issues such as self-harm?

Yes, medication can help individuals struggling with depression-related issues such as self-harm. In some cases, antidepressant medications can alleviate symptoms associated with depression which could lead indirectly to reducing levels of distress associated with low mood which could result in decreased risk for engaging in unsafe behaviors like cutting or burning one’s skin.

However, it should be noted that medications alone cannot correct underlying causes so it’s important that therapy services accompany any pharmacological management plan for treating depression-related issues such as self-harm.

Is there any hope for those who struggle with severe depression and/or engage in self-harm behaviors?

Absolutely! Despite how difficult things seem when experiencing severe episodes of depression or engaging in destructive behaviors such as cutting oneself, there is always hope for those suffering from mental health challenges like these.

It might take hard work through therapy sessions and lifestyle changes but recovery is possible if one seeks the proper medical care and follows through on treatment plans developed by professionals qualified for treating these issues.

Is self-harm a symptom of clinical depression?

Self-harm is not a direct symptom of clinical depression but can sometimes be an indication that someone is struggling with a mental health issue such as depression.

It’s important to note that many people who self-harm do not have a mental health disorder – it can sometimes be an indicator of underlying distress and an inability to cope with life experiences or difficult emotions.

Does everyone who has experienced depression engage in self-harming behaviors?

No – not everyone who has experienced depression engages in self-harming behaviors but for some individuals, it is one way they attempt to cope and manage their discomfort or distress caused by the symptoms of their mental health disorder.


Lars-Gunnar Lundh (December 27, 2010). Depressive Symptoms and Deliberate Self-Harm in a Community Sample of Adolescents: A Prospective Study.

Shimin Lai (September 13, 2021). Depression and Deliberate Self-Harm Among Rural Adolescents of Sichuan Province in Western China: A 2-Year Longitudinal Study.

Yang, Feng-Ying (February 2017). The Depressive Symptoms, Resourcefulness, and Self-Harm Behaviors of Adolescents.,_resourcefulness,_and.9.aspx

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