Defining Depression, Suicide, and Self-Harm


Stress, too little sleep, grieving, bullying, set-backs, and many other things affect your mood and cause feelings of sadness, irritability, or hopelessness. These feelings can be perfectly normal. If you experience any of the following symptoms coupled with those feelings, you should contact a mental health professional right away: sleeping too much or too little; dramatic changes in appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain; loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy; persistent headaches or pain that doesn’t respond to treatment; lack of energy; difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.


According to the American Psychological Association and the American Foundations for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates in the United States have increased over 30% since 2000, with suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Although there is no accurate accounting for suicide attempts in the U.S., there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts in 2017 alone.

The term suicide describes the act of intentionally taking one’s own life, and these acts are typically planned and attempted multiple times. The acts are usually triggered by a reaction to some kind of stressful string of events or circumstances and are likely to occur during crisis, or periods associated with overwhelming emotion or pain. Crisis periods can come from positive or negative events including everything from marriage, having a child, and getting promoted to loss of relationships, debts, and physical health deterioration.

Possible contributing factors for suicidal actions during a crisis include:

  • prior victims of domestic violence or who were abused or neglected as children
  • significant grief or loss
  • perceived social isolation from public humiliation or shame
  • prior drug or substance abuse
  • diagnosed or undiagnosed mood or psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, depression, bipolar disorders, or schizophrenia

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing warning signs in yourself and taking them seriously. Even if you aren’t sure, but you have a mood that lingers or are constantly feeling overwhelmed, turn to a mental health professional for advice. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.


Self-harm and self-injurious acts are different than suicidal acts. The distinction between a suicidal act and a self-harm act is the intent behind the act. Those who perform suicidal acts are intending to permanently end their own life whereas those who perform self-harm acts are intending to cause intense pain, damage, or sensation, but with no intent to end their life. Self-harm acts can lead to accidental suicide if taken too far, but their intent and goals are not suicidal. Their goals are typically one of the motivations discussed below:

  1. To take/regain control or to reduce tension – Some people who self-harm believe that their lives, thoughts, or emotions are so overwhelming and out of their control that they cannot handle it. By harming themselves, they are able to focus on and control the pain and sensations of the self-injury.
  2. To return from numbness or experience euphoria– Some people who have been traumatized cope with that pain by dissociating from the event and, thereby accidentally distancing themselves from feeling anything. They may use physical injury to feel something – anything – again. Others actually feel that self-harm creates pleasant feelings or even euphoria when they self-injure and they then attempt to recreate that feeling by additional or more aggressive means.
  3. To express inner pain – Some people who self-harm are not able to express the pain or emotional overwhelm with words, so they express the pain physically, which they feel is easier for others to understand.
  4. To punish themselves – Some people self-harm to punish themselves; this typically happens after abuse. The person begins to physically punish themselves for being “bad” as defined by the abuser, even if the abuser is no longer present.

What can you do to mitigate depression or poor mental health?

            Having well-established relationships and developing good coping mechanisms for stress are the best ways to stay mentally healthy. Some ideas that are good for lifting moods and making you feel better:

  • Talk to someone – Having friends and family for support is critical if you are feeling isolated, hopeless, or depressed.
  • Set attainable goals – Even simple tasks can be hard when you are feeling down. Setting small attainable goals every day can help boost your self-confidence when you reach those goals.
  • Exercise and eat a healthy diet – Simple exercise boosts endorphins and usually lifts spirits. Healthy foods keep your mentally and emotionally healthy and can even boost memory, energy, and mood!
  • Set a sleep schedule – Often depression can cause disrupted sleep patterns resulting in too much or too little sleep. Setting a schedule and going to bed and waking up at the same time can help regulate mood and boost your overall energy.
  • Find time for whatever makes you smile – Any activity that makes you smile or can lift your mood even a tiny bit should be done regularly. Maybe walking your dog, baking a cake, dancing, watching the waves crash on a beach, or playing basketball makes you smile. Whatever it is, make time to do more of it.

***Information from, An American Addiction Centers Resource; Health Advocate Blog; American Psychological Association (; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. Getting help early is important and Health Advocate provided through CSEBA’s medical insurance program can help members get access to confidential support, resources, and referrals as needed. You can call them 24/7 at: 866-799-2728.

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