Thursday, February 20, 2014

Depression and Self-Harm

About Depression

Moments of depression or sadness are quite common and part of living. Depression becomes clinical, and a problem to varying degrees, when it continues for many months or even years, becomes crippling and makes it difficult or impossible to work/go to school, or occurs for no reason at all.

When a family member dies, a pet is lost, you lose your job or your marriage falls apart, it's natural to be depressed. These things happen, and recovering from the depression is part of becoming a stronger person.

But depression can be crippling. Some of the symptoms are constant sadness, bouts of crying for no reason, inability to sleep oversleeping, losing interest in activities that you've always loved, not wanting to do anything at all, hating everyone and everything, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, et cetera. These things can all be symptoms of something else, but if you've got more than four of these symptoms you should do some research of your own and take some psychiatric testing.

I personally am BiPolar and have actively struggled with depression for four and a half years. I may have shown symptoms of depression before that, but I am not aware of them as symptoms of depression. The depression became serious when my Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer and was going through his treatments. I was always Daddy's little girl, and it hurt to see him crippled by the pain of his cancer, and slowly wasting away.

Depression runs in my family as well. It is not completely a genetic disorder, and can be triggered by circumstances and a variety of other things, but having family members who have struggled with depression does increase the risk of getting it yourself.

Depression can be painful. It can be fatal, or near-fatal, as is my case. It can manifest in any number of behaviours. I was lucky in that I never lost a passion for my writing when depressed-in fact, when struggling with depression I have written more poetry than at any 'stable' or 'manic' time in my life.

There are many ways to help a family member or friend who is depressed, and to identify depression in yourself and others, but these are not the focus of this article.


Self-harm is the general term, and the politically correct one, for a variety of behaviors, including cutting, burning, anorexia and bulimia, hair-pulling, scab-picking and other such things. Some of these we do not commonly recognize as self harm, and are not as dangerous as others (scab-picking mostly), with the most infamous forms of self-harm being anorexia and cutting.

Self-harm and cutting may or may not be related to a depressed state. Anyone you know may be someone who self-harms in any one of a number of ways. People who self-harm are not usually suicidal, using the self-harm as a method of releasing their pain. There are many misconceptions about self-harm and I hope to eliminate some of these with my work.

People who self-harm are not usually doing so for attention. They usually go out of their way to hide the scars, wearing long sleeves even in the summer or self-harming in ways that are easy to hide, such as cutting the stomach area or upper thighs and pulling small amounts of hair. Even scab picking can be easy to hide to an extent. There are some who do this for attention, as it has, sadly, become somewhat of a trend, called 'emo'. This is a very small percentage of those who self-harm and mostly applies to cutters.

Many self-harmers have been abused at some point in their lives, and some self-harm internalizing the idea that they are bad and need to be punished. In this way self-harm can stem from insecurity and self-hatred, which can lead to depression or come from depression.

More self-harmers are female than male, possibly relating to a higher number of abused women than men. The average self-harmer is a woman between the ages of 13-30, although it could be anyone, male, female, young, old, with or without a family. Some who are happily married and have children continue to cut, as it helps them alleviate the stresses of their life.

The Relationship Between Depression And Self-Harm

Depression can commonly lead to self-harm, as it did in my case. I was clinically depressed for most of three years before I began cutting, and while the original incident was not out of depression but out of curiosity, I soon discovered that cutting distracted me from the mental pain, blocking it out while I took care of the physical pain.

You will find this to be a common thread amongst many cutters. It distracts them from their daily struggle with life and perhaps depression, and gives them a rushy feeling. Some like the sight and even the taste of their own blood. There are many different reasons people self-harm that I cannot describe all in one place.

Not everyone who is depressed self-harms, and not everyone who self-harms is depressed. Many people who are depressed, who often can't quite understand why, are either afraid of pain both mental and physical, or love their bodies and do not want to hurt themselves. Many who self-harm do so as a way to escape every day life and prove that they are brave, having the bravery to hurt themselves.

Many who self-harm are ashamed of the fact that they self-harm, and so they hide it from their friends and family. The same stands for many who are depressed. Depression and self-harm are both things more likely to occur when someone has been abused in their past, in any way, shape or form.

Depression and self-harm are related, though one thing does not always signify the other. Many of the same people who are likely to experience depression are likely to self-harm.

A person struggling with depression could be anyone, even the person you think of as being the happiest person you know. A person who self-harms could be anyone, even that same person you think of as being the happiest person you know.

This is not a fully comprehensive article, but the beginning of a series of articles about depression and self-harm from the point of view of someone who is BiPolar and has struggled with both depression and self-harm in the past.

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