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Self-harm (or non-suicidal self-injury) comes in many forms and can be damaging to a person’s physical and mental health.

Self-harm is a challenging experience that can be frightening and isolating. It’s common to feel alone, ashamed, and overwhelmed when struggling with self-harm.

There are many reasons people engage in self-harm, but it is most often used as a way of coping with difficult emotions. Self-harm is not just attention seeking, although people do use it as a way of letting others know they are not coping.

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Self-harm refers to a range of behaviours, not a mental disorder or illness, although it can be a sign of an emerging mental illness such as anxiety or depression.

The most common methods of self-harm are:


Scratching or picking, that results in bleeding or welts

Deliberately hitting the body on a hard surface

Punching, hitting or slapping the body

Burning or biting

Taking an overdose of medication

Frequent, unexplained injuries of the types described above, may indicate that self-harm has been occurring. However, some people will go to great lengths to conceal their injuries, and it might be hard to pick up on some of these signs.

Steps you can take

Dealing with your own self-harming behaviours:

Talk to someone you trust, get help – friend, family member, GP, counsellor or teacher

Recognise when you do and don’t self-harm – explore triggers such as places and feelings you have

Delay or distract yourself for a period when you feel the need to self-harm – often strong feelings decrease over time, and as such the urge to self-harm can also dissipate when feelings soften

Use breathing and mindfulness methods (take long deep breaths) to allow yourself to manage the feelings in a different way

Write down your feelings – expression of feelings in this way can also help you to cope better as well as recognising the feelings that lead to self-harm

Develop a safety plan for yourself and stick with it

How to help someone who self-harms

Supporting someone who self-harms can be tough and difficult to understand at times.

Try to be calm, open and honest – don’t take their behaviour personally

Let the person know that you support them and be a good listener

Help the person make a plan about what to do instead of self-harm

Encourage the person to get help from a health professional

Know your own boundaries of how much you can do to help

Evidence from Australian studies suggest that 6-7% of Australian youth aged 15-24 years engage self-harm in any 12 month period. Lifetime prevalence rates are higher. (Headspace)

Urgent Assistance

If you are in need of urgent support, you can contact the below 24 hour services for immediate support:

  • Emergency – 000
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636

Match with a Psychologist

Start your journey with Strategic Psychology

Contact us at Strategic Psychology via phone, email or drop in to our office if you would like to make an appointment to see one of our psychologists. No referral is needed to access our services, however, you may be eligible for rebates under Medicare, in which case you will need to obtain a Mental Health Treatment Plan from your GP.