Self harm and depression affects millions of Americans every year and can stem from a wide variety of issues. Symptoms of depression can vary but can include emotional or mood issues such as persistent feelings of sadness, worthlessness, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in activities, or problems performing everyday tasks. Trouble sleeping and eating, feeling tired, eating too little or too much, headaches, body aches, cramps, headaches, and digestive issues may also occur. Suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts may occur in severe depression as is non-suicidal self-harm.

Non-suicidal self-harm or self-mutilation is the act of inflicting harm onto oneself without intent to end life. These behaviors may often be mistaken for suicide attempts when the individual inflicting self-injury has no concrete intent of ending their life, but engages and self harm and depression symptoms are present. Self injurious behaviors can include cutting, burning, puncturing, biting, scratching, picking, bruising, or embedding items into the skin in addition to breaking bones, pulling hair, putting pressure on the eyes, banging of the head, or other behaviors. 1

Those who experience self-harm and depression may do so to relieve mental or emotional distress. The act of harming oneself can release endorphins which can have the side effect of temporarily reducing the pain associated with internal conflict caused by depression. This is somewhat of an attempt to provide a physical solution to a problem which is emotional in origin. The behavior itself is a very private act that is habit forming and it is intentional. Many who choose to inflict self-harm will go out of their way to hide the fact that they are doing so.1

Individuals may cover their self inflicted wounds with jewelry, clothing, or bandages and will often make up fictitious clumsy accidents for why they are injured. This self harm and depression disorders are not meant to be manipulative of those around the person nor is it attention-seeking. Those who self-harm often feel unable to cope with their emotional pain and feel unable to communicate that pain, or its origins, with those around them. This disorder is usually a symptom of another psychological disorder such as depression and is often seen in those who have faced a traumatic experience.Self harm and depression often co-occur and both problems require treatment.

Approximately 4% of people in the US have used self-inflicted harm as a method of coping with a mental health disorder. Females are more at risk of self-mutilation than males but this could be due to the fact that more females seek professional help than their male counterparts. Use of this behavior may be done to end emotional numbness, try to cope with low self-esteem, or as an effort to control feelings of powerlessness or helplessness. The behavior may be done to calm unmanageable feelings, to attempt to remain in control, or to effect self-punishment, self-hatred, or shame. Self-harm and depression may be a way to express negative emotions or thoughts in a way that the individual is unable to do with words.1

Signs that someone may be experiencing self harm and depression symptoms can include wearing long clothing when it is too warm to do so, low self-esteem, problems handling emotions, functioning poorly with home, school, or work tasks, relationship problems, and the appearance of sharp objects or sources of heat in the person’s belongings.2

If a loved one comes to you and admits to self-harm or you suspect they are inflicting self-harm, it is important to take the appropriate steps. Remain calm and non-judgemental, try not to act shocked or outraged, feel free to ask questions, and don’t give ultimatums. Questions should be about why the person feels the need to harm themselves and should be done in a supportive way so your loved one feels you are listening and trying to understand what they are going through. If the person shows signs of withdrawing into themselves, back off a little. The fact that they have told you about this indicates they trust you and want your support.2

An individual suffering from self harm and depression should consult with a licenced mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. Common treatments for self-harm and depression can include psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, or may include a combination of psychotherapies best suited to the individual. Skills and techniques will also be learned to assist with handling difficult emotions, communicating effectively with others, and relaxation techniques. These therapies are often available in individual, family, or group settings and a trained professional will know which format is best for the individual’s personal treatment course. At times, prescription medications may be used to help improve symptoms for a short time until psychotherapy progress indicates otherwise but this is not always necessary as psychotherapies have been shown to be successful on their own.3

Because our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods for self harm and depression.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from self harm and depression.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  It is also important to keep in mind that women and men often experience depression differently and therefore the presence of depression may also appear differently based on gender. If you or a loved one is showing signs of slef harm and depression, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful and people who have completed our program have resulted in our treatment program receiving very highly consumer satisfaction scores and reviewsCall us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201202/depression-and-non-suicidal-self-harm
  2. http://www.lifesigns.org.uk/how-to-react-when-your-friend-says-they-self-injure/
  3. http://www.webmd.com/depression/self-harm-disorder?page=2