Self-pity is not a formally diagnosed condition like depression, but it can be a secondary symptom of depression. Understanding how they differ can help you identify if professional support is needed.

We all go through periods where we’re not feeling great. Maybe an off day leads to a bad week or a rough patch. After a difficult external event like losing a job or going through a breakup, it’s easy to slip into a negative thought pattern of self-pity.

If this negative thought pattern goes on for a prolonged period of time, does it count as a depressive episode?

The short answer is: maybe, maybe not.

The actual answer takes a little longer to explore, so let’s dive in!

Depression is an actual clinical condition, whereas self-pity is not. But the mind and emotions are much too complex for the answer to be so simple. Signs of depression include:

  • hopelessness
  • lack of interest
  • loss of energy
  • sleep problems
  • anxiety
  • changes in appetite

The signs mentioned above can also occur during bouts of self-pity.

There are many causes of depression, including genetics, brain chemistry, and external events such as the death of a loved one or divorce.

Self-pity is not caused by genetics, but normally through an external circumstance. This is typically where the connection between self-pity and depression occurs.

Yes, it can.

Oftentimes periods of self-pity will naturally come to an end once the pain from an external circumstance begins to fade. But sometimes self-pity can snowball into a deepened sense of depression.

If self-pity becomes an ongoing negative thought loop or a rumination, it can have detrimental consequences. Rumination can make you feel hopeless, increase your focus on negative or painful events, and adopt a more negative outlook on the present.

If rumination goes on for a prolonged period, it can deepen, prolong, or even trigger depression. One way rumination can lead to depression is if the affected individual feels so consumed by their thoughts that they self-isolate from their community.

2014 research suggests that loneliness and isolation can lead to or deepen existing depression.

Another way self-pity can lead to depression is through the individual’s attempts to self-medicate through drug or alcohol abuse.

According to the American Addiction Centers, roughly 1 in 3 individuals with major depression also abuse substances.

When it comes to which came first, that usually depends on the individual’s circumstances. According to Mental Health America, substance misuse can lead to depression, and vice-versa.

If you experience self-pity, you’re not alone. It’s natural to have emotions that may lead to moments of self-pity.

While it’s never as easy as snapping your fingers and deciding to no longer feel bad, there are some actions you can take to shift your mindset into more positive thinking.

Express gratitude

You can start by making a list of the people and things you’re grateful for. Then, if it makes sense, reach out to someone and thank them for the positive impact they’ve had in your life.

It can be as simple as a nice text message or a thank you note. You may also consider reciprocating their kindness in some way such as treating them to dinner or doing another favor.

Experience awe

Moments of awe can be found in simple day-to-day experiences that don’t require you to book a flight or spend money.

Consider taking time to observe your surroundings and practice awareness. During these moments, you may notice the beauty in:

  • watching the sunrise or sunset
  • a plant sprouting through a crack on the sidewalk
  • an ant carrying a crumb that’s several times its body weight
  • a spider making a web
  • art or music that brings you joy

Try to create positive change

Consider taking action to create positive change in other people’s lives. A great way to do this is to volunteer.

Getting involved with a cause you believe in, whether it’s helping to feed unhoused people or volunteering at an animal shelter, can have an enormous impact on your feelings of self-pity.

Developing these moments to connect with others can increase self-compassion, which may reduce feelings of self-pity.

Engage in regular exercise

You don’t have to train for a marathon to reap the mental benefits of regular exercise.

According to the Department of Health, most people only need about half an hour of moderate exercise 5 times a week. Consider engaging in exercises you enjoy, such as:

  • swimming
  • doing yard work
  • yoga
  • strength training
  • hiking

Treating depression

If you’re experiencing greater signs than self-pity and think you may be experiencing depression, consider talking with a medical professional. They may recommend options such as medication, therapy, or a combination of both to help you cope with your symptoms.

Treatment plans will vary between individuals based on the severity of their symptoms. If you are seeking support, consider using the FindCare tool to find a qualified professional near you.

For more information on treatment options available for depressive symptoms, check out Psych Central’s resource page.

Was this helpful?

Self-pity is an emotional mindset that is natural to experience from time to time, usually based on environmental circumstances.

If your feelings of self-pity begin to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, consider speaking with a mental health professional to support you during this time.

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge: