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

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:

  • Cutting
  • 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.

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 dissipates when feeling soften
  • Use breathing and mindfulness methods (take long deep breathes) 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 and go with them if it is possible
  • 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 or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself, you can contact a number of different 24 hour mental health services for immediate support:

Mental Health Services Phone
Emergency Services (24 hours) 000
Lifeline (24 hours) 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – for 25 years and younger (24 hours) 1800 551 800
Contact your local doctor or hospital