Psychology,  Public Reads

The Differences between Self-Harm and Suicide

The Differences Between Self-Harm and Suicide

People tend to find it difficult to distinguish between self-harm and suicide, and in a matter of fact, they differ widely looking on the intention for these self-destructive behaviours. Self-harm, also called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), refers to the deliberate actions that one attempt to bring damage to his/ her own body without the conscious intention of suicide. It has garnered great deal of attention from the population as it has been a perpetual problem found in the adolescents community, while a statistics in 2015 found a lifetime prevalence of 16.9% with gradual increase for one to attempt self-harm. Meanwhile, suicide attempt posits to behaviours done by the individual itself with an intention to bring his/ her life to an end, which was usually due to sense of hopelessness that stemmed from negative life event or mental disorders. That being said, self-harm was often being used as a way to cope with their overwhelming negative affect and comes from a place of not wanting to be engulfed by suicidal ideation, and on the other hand, suicide attempt was an act to end their life to escape from sufferings.

The followings are brief summary of differences between self-harm and suicide:


i. Intention To soothe and cope with emotional pain and distress, which in a way to induce positive feeling or to avoid suicidal impulses.

ii. Frequency It could happen frequently due to them being utilised as a way to manage stress and negative emotions.

iii. Severity Less severe and in most cases do not require medical attention.

iv. Methods Cutting and burning, punching and hitting, extreme scratching and skin-picking, hair-pulling, intoxication, deliberate act of starving oneself or binge-eating

v. Aftermath Results in short-term emotional relief, however would cause damage to both mental and physical well-being in a long run. Unintentional death could occur, even though it is not common.


i. Intention To end their sufferings by taking their own life.

ii. Frequency It could happen less frequent as compared to self-harming behaviours.

iii. Severity Involved with more lethal consequences that require immediate medical attention.

iv. Methods Chemical poisoning, gas poisoning, hanging, suffocation, stabbing, firearm, jumping from a higher places

v. Aftermath Often leave traumatic experience for suicide attempt survivors.

Common question that people had in regard to this issue includes whether self-harm is an indication for future suicidal ideation. According to Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery (2015), no evidence showing how self-harm being a causal factor for suicidal ideation and attempt, however there is a risk that self-harm would lower one’s cognitive inhibition towards regarding suicide as an option due to the continuous act of damaging his or her own body. The risk could be higher for those self-harmers that had acted in more severe form of self-injury, or had done it more frequently and had used multiple methods. Another question is that is it possible for one to have both self-harm tendencies and suicidal ideation? The answer is yes, and there is a 35% to 40% of risk that people adopted both behaviors and ideation at once.

There is a lot of myth surrounding self-harm, which leads to the formation of negative stigmas in the populations that had onto this issue. One of it is that self-harmers did it just to seek attention or for the purpose of manipulation. Neither of them is true, and the most common reason behind these self-damaging acts is to regulate their own negative emotions, such as to reduce the intensity of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and self-hatred as a form of self-punishment. It could also be an attempt to get out of the experience of dissociation, including depersonalization and derealisation, through inflicting hurt onto oneself and stop the numbness and emptiness. Besides, there is also a myth that said people did it to follow the ‘goth’ and ‘emo’ trend. While these biased thought has paved its way to induce more stigmas, it also became an obstacle that stops people from getting the support they need. Meanwhile, suicide attempt survivors also faced the risk of getting social isolation, which some of them reported that they had received less support than those bereaved family members that of people died of suicide.

Hence, in hopes that more people would get the help they need both from the support systems around them, such as family members and close friends, and also to reach out for professional help from mental health services, the following lists are the signs to look out which might indicate possible self-harm and suicidal tendencies:

a. Unexplained scars of cut or burn marks

b. Wearing long-sleeves to cover body parts even in hot weather conditions.

c. Increased use of substances (drugs and alcohol)

d. Expressions of self-loathing and self-blaming

e. Talking about wanting to end everything and feeling hopeless

f. Feel anxious that the trouble and pain will never end

g. Signs of depression, appear lethargic or at the verge of tears

h. Low self-esteem and withdrawn from family and friends

i. Mood swings, unpredictable outburst of anger and impulsivity

If you’re feeling in distress, struggle with self-harm  or being suicidal currently and need someone to talk to, you can speak to the crisis hotlines as followed:


(24 hrs)



Talian Kasih

(24 hrs)


(Whatsapp number) 019-2615999

Life Line Association Malaysia


Working hours

Mon & Fri 





Mon to Fri





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