Bipolar Self-Harm: Why Do We Do It?
Self-injury often travels with certain psychiatric conditions. One such example is bipolar self-harm. This is not necessarily a symptom of bipolar disorder, but I think many bipolar patients ended up hurting themselves at some point in their lives. Why do we do it? As always, self-harm is a complex phenomenon, so I may not have all the answers, but I can share my own experience in this post.
Bipolar and Self-Harm: Are They Related?
Studies suggest that bipolar patients are most likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors during the so-called mixed state.1 I can fully understand that scenario as that’s when it happened to me as well. I was feeling extremely sad and depressed, but at the same time, I had so much energy and felt agitated and on edge all the time. It’s a very dangerous state to be in, and I found this cocktail of emotions unbearable.
Some research also suggests that bipolar women are more likely to hurt themselves than men,1 especially in adolescence. Again, this was true in my case, as I started self-harming back in high school. However, this statistic might wrongly imply that self-harm is a teenage girl thing while it’s not. It can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, age, or background.
While there is some relation between bipolar disorder and self-harm, some people may never experience any urges. In fact, my doctor in the past didn’t believe my self-injury was due to my disease (although I disagree), so I would suggest working closely with your psychiatrist to find the root cause.
Reasons for Bipolar Self-Harm
The motivations behind self-harm are very different for each person. I often see bipolar patients talking about the unbearable tension in their bodies that they try to resolve with self-injurious behavior. I usually self-harm during mixed states, which feel very tense to me, so I can relate to that statement.
When I had my last mixed episode, I didn’t sleep a lot, my body felt uncomfortable and restless all the time, and the racing thoughts became too much. While hypomanic, I could resolve this tension with creativity as I had a million "brilliant" project ideas where I could redirect all that excess energy. However, just before depression fully hit me, I was stuck in this unbearable limbo of emotions, which I later learned was a mixed state. I was still restless, but with a negative outlook on myself and the world around me, and nowhere to release that energy. The easiest way to soothe that sensation was through acts of self-aggression, which of course, was only temporary relief.
This is just my experience, and everyone is different. Do you also suffer from bipolar and self-harm urges? How does it feel for you? Let me know in the comments.
- Bledsoe A., "Bipolar Disorder and Self-Injury." Everyday Health, April 2010.
Halas, M. (2021, July 12). Bipolar Self-Harm: Why Do We Do It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2021/7/bipolar-self-harm-why-do-we-do-it
Author: Martyna Halas
Just recently diagnosed with Bipolar 2 after a stint in the hospital due to active suicidality during a major depressive episode. I started cutting my upper arms around 25 years old, but had performed other self-harm behaviors before then like burning myself with cigarettes and punching brick walls until my hands were bleeding or broken, especially during times when I was experiencing major depression and racing thoughts. Also a ton of substance abuse. I didn't really know why I felt compelled to commit self-harm until recently when I made three cuts into my arm and it relieved the tension I was feeling, only for it to come back in full force again, leading me to want to cut myself to bits (foetunately I only did the three cuts). I also had the urge to just start stabbing myself in the stomach repeatedly, but I'm also diagnosed with OCD so that may have come into play.
Hi, I am 42 and worried I am being misdiagnosed as ADHD. I have suffered from depression since I was about 10. In high school at age 15 I started cutting myself and by grade 11 was cutting myself every day and burned myself several times. I also had incidents with feeling high and excessive drinking, followed by quiet depressive mood as I result of what I did during the incident and hysterical laughter on a school trip, followed by locking myself in a bathroom at the hotel and cutting myself. By 17, I was abusing PCP on a daily basis and was hospitalized several times as a result. Now have periods with tons of energy, motivation and ideas and periods of depression and sometimes feel reasonably normal. Could this be bipolar disorder?
I am not the original author of this post; I am also unfortunately not a doctor or medical professional of any kind, so it would be wrong of me to try and give you a diagnosis. All I can say is that it sounds like you're going through a lot -- whatever the specific label for it might be -- and I think it would be worth discussing with someone who IS a medical professional, if that is at all possible for you. A psychologist or psychiatrist would be ideal for specifically addressing your concerns around having bipolar vs ADHD, but even talking with a regular family doctor would be a step in the right direction.
I'm sorry I can't be more helpful; I hope that you get some answers, and some more positive stability in your life, soon.