A young woman is being comforted by her partner because she feels like a failure, which may signal a mental health condition.

Here’s When Feeling Like a Failure Signals a Mental Health Condition

4 min.

Feelings of failure that are ongoing and not reflective of your life can indicate you’re experiencing a mental health condition.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

May 9, 2024

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Feeling like a failure is a part of life for everyone, no matter how many healthy habits you implement. Everyone has moments when they feel like they’ve let themselves or others down, or their goal and success are out of reach, replaced by fear and pain. These moments are often circumstantial and pass with time, but sometimes, feelings of failure linger and fester inside — possibly indicating a larger mental health condition. Below, experts explain what triggers feelings of failure and when feeling like a failure may be a sign of a larger mental health issue. 

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What causes feelings of failure?

Feelings of failure can arise from various factors, including self-criticism, perfectionism, external pressures, and more. Something as simple as not doing well on a test or forgetting someone’s birthday could trigger feelings of failure. However, if it feels like you’re constantly asking yourself, “Why am I such a failure?” it could be a sign of a mental health condition. “Unfortunately, a lot of mental health diagnoses leave individuals feeling like a failure or produce self-deprecating thoughts,” says Charlie Health Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Rebecca Holland, PMHNP-BC.

A regularly present sense of failure might stem from anxiety disorders or depressive disorders, adds Charlie Health Primary Therapist and DEI Community Outreach Chair Asha Clark, LPC. Anxiety disorders include phobia, generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety, and separation anxiety disorders, while major depression is one of the primary types of depression disorders. Conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and substance use disorder can also cause feelings of failure. 

Charlie Health experiential therapist Julie A. Eggleston, MS, CTRS, explains that all of these conditions can “make individuals sensitive to failure because of their inability to cope, lacking confidence in themselves or their relationships, making mistakes that they see as failures, relapsing, their learned behaviors and reactions from others.” These feelings can stop you from feeling like a successful person and replace pride with this negative emotion. 

How to tell if feeling like a failure is a mental health condition

So, how can you determine if the failure you’re feeling is just that or part of a diagnosable mental health condition? A lot of it comes down to the length of these feelings and how they impact your daily life. According to Clark, some of the indicators that these feelings of failure are indicative of a mental health disorder include: 

  • Ruminating over feelings of failure
  • Excessively worrying about feelings of failure
  • Avoiding situations that you feel may lead to failure
  • Intrusive negative thoughts
  • Intense and recurring feelings of sadness stemming from feelings of failure
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide 

Self-harm and suicidal ideation tied to feelings of failure are also indicative of a severe mental health condition that requires intervention and care. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in danger of harming yourself, this is a mental health emergency. Contact The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7 by calling or texting 988.

According to Eggleston, if you “continually are feeling like a failure, then something else is happening more than circumstantial.” These continued negative thoughts point to something going on beyond just a moment of failure. Consider the following questions: 

  • Do you feel like a failure despite academic success and a good, healthy social group? 
  • Is it crushing each time something doesn’t go exactly how you want it to? 
  • Do you feel like every goal is out of reach despite making progress? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be a sign that your feelings of failure are more than circumstantial — and possibly indicative of a mental health condition. 

Another way to differentiate between a general feeling of failure and indications of something else is by zooming out to the big picture to see if your circumstances are impacting your emotions or if it’s the other way around, says Holland. It can help to talk to people in your life about this to get a more objective perspective. Speaking with a mental health professional through in-person or online therapy can also help you piece together an idea of what is at the core of these feelings and where this perceived failure originates.

A teenager seeks professional help for a mental health condition.

How Charlie Health can help

Are you constantly wondering, “Why am I such a failure?” Charlie Health is here to help. Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians can dig into how past failure impacts your mental health and help you work through any negative emotion or fear you’re dealing with. This kind of holistic online therapy makes managing your mental health and developing healthy habits possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to learn more and start healing today.

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