Self-Harm and Suicide: Can Self-Injury Lead to Suicide?
Because self-harm (also known as self-injury or self-mutilation) can involve physical injury (such as in the case of self-injury cutting), it can seem like self-harm and suicide are directly related. It's normal to think that cutting one's wrist, in the case of self-harm, may be a suicidal gesture; indicating that the person wishes to cut their wrist to die.
However, this is typically not the case. In fact, most people who practice self-injury don't intend to kill themselves and may even see self-injury as a way of avoiding suicide.
The Relationship Between Self-Harm and Suicide
Self-harm that is not undertaken with the aim of committing suicide is called non-suicidal self-injury and most self-harm falls into this category. People who practice non-suicidal self-injury do so to deal with overwhelming emotions or to feel emotion when none exists. These self-injury quotes provide additional insight into that. And while many people who self-mutilate consider suicide, the act of self-mutilation itself, is not generally a suicidal act. (read: Why I Self-Harm: Why People Self-Injure)
A minority of people will practice self-harm with suicidal intent, however, so the specific relationship between self-harm and suicide is unclear. And while the act of self-harm has not been shown to lead to suicide, it is understood that the pain that causes people to self-harm may also drive a person to suicide. This is seen in the following statistics about individuals with a history of non-suicidal self-injury as compared to those without a history of self-harm:1
- They were over nine times more likely to report suicide attempts
- They were seven times more likely to report a suicidal gesture
- They were six times more likely to report a suicide plan
Because of these numbers, any act of self-harm should be taken seriously and can alert others to significant emotional distress. It's important to get professional help for self-injury, as a professional is more likely to be able to assess the likelihood of suicide in a person that self-harms. This is critical, as the treatment for non-suicidal self-injury and a suicide attempt are quite different.
Nevertheless, it's important to remember that the majority of people who self-mutilate (60%) report not considering suicide.
(Did you know there are pro self-injury, pro self-harm websites that actually encourage self-injury, even suicide?)
Last Updated: 26 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD