What Is the Connection between Suicide and Self-Harm?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee
Suicide and self-harm commonly occur in the same individuals.
Suicide and self-harm commonly occur in the same individuals.

Suicide and self-harm are believed to occur often in the same individuals. Psychologists believe that as many as half of people who commit suicide have deliberately harmed themselves in the past. Studies suggest that as many as seven percent of those who harm themselves will attempt suicide within nine years of the first instance of self-harming behavior. Many people who self-harm suffer from depression, although thoughts of suicide and self-harm often don't occur together. Self-harming behaviors are believed to be most common in adolescents, and are often determined to be a means of coping with unpleasant life circumstances and powerful negative emotions, rather than as attempts to commit suicide.

Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm or suicide.
Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm or suicide.

Many people who practice self-harm don't intend to commit suicide. Most self-harming behaviors, such as scratching or cutting oneself, are not considered sufficiently dangerous to be interpreted as suicide attempts. Many of the people who practice self-harm are between the ages of 15 and 19, and some experts believe that these youths do not have a fully mature concept of the nature of death or the ramifications of suicide. Self-harm and depression do, however, often occur together. The connection between suicide and self-harm therefore seems to be that those who self-harm are at higher risk for suicide than those who do not self-harm, due to the level of emotional distress that can accompany psychiatric disorders such as depression.

Overdosing on pain medication can be fatal.
Overdosing on pain medication can be fatal.

It is believed, however, that people who self-harm often do so for reasons very different from those who commit suicide, or attempt to commit suicide. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm practices may originate from the same sources, such as depression, low self-esteem, and psychological turmoil, but most people who self-harm probably do it because it helps them to cope with difficult situations and emotions. People who self-harm are, however, considered more likely to develop severe depression and suicidal patterns of thinking if they do not receive psychiatric help.

While suicide and self-harm may have a strong correlation with one another, most people who self-harm do not actually hurt themselves very badly. Experts believe that, even when self-harm does lead a person to injure themselves severely, it may be because that person didn't understand the full risks involved in that particular act of self-harm. Adolescents, for instance, who intentionally overdose on over-the-counter drugs may do themselves the sort of serious harm that might otherwise be considered a suicide attempt, except that these youths do not understand the true dangers involved in such an act.

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    • Suicide and self-harm commonly occur in the same individuals.
      Suicide and self-harm commonly occur in the same individuals.
    • Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm or suicide.
      Individuals who are depressed or traumatized may be at increased risk for self-harm or suicide.
    • Overdosing on pain medication can be fatal.
      Overdosing on pain medication can be fatal.