Download the factsheet on self harm
What is self harm?
Self harm is when people deliberately hurt their bodies. Common forms of self harm include:
- cutting (e.g., cutting the skin on arms, wrists or thighs)
- burning the skin
- picking at wounds or scars
- hitting yourself
- deliberately overdosing on medication, drugs or other harmful substances.
Why do young people self harm?
Young people often report that they self harm to try to manage distressing emotions. Many may feel overwhelmed by difficult feelings, thoughts or memories. Sometimes people can self harm just to feel something, or it may seem like self harm is the only thing that helps.
Some life experiences increase the likelihood that someone might use self harm to manage their distress. This includes people who’ve experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse and people who are experiencing a mental health challenge. Remember this isn’t always the case, every individual will have their own reasons why they self harm.
Self harm might give relief for a moment, but it doesn’t help ‘fix’ the problem. With the right help, people can learn different ways to cope and over time will rely less on self harm as a strategy.
What can I do if I self harm?
If you’ve been self harming or thinking about self harming, it’s important to remember that self harm is a way to cope with and manage something. With the help of others, you can learn skills and be supported to cope with whatever is distressing you. If you’re self harming or thinking about self harm remember that there are people who can support you and want to support you.
It’s useful to look for help when problems are starting out. Talking with a trusted family member, friend, teacher, or Elder about what you’re experiencing is a good first step.
What if I don’t feel ready to talk to someone I know?
- talk anonymously to an eheadspace clinician online or on the phone
- talk to a GP
- call a confidential helpline for support (like Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800).
If you're feeling the urge to self-harm, it can be useful to try other strategies so you can avoid hurting yourself. There are also apps and websites that provide suggested strategies. Coming up with them on your own can be daunting.
Maybe distraction works. Activities you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music or talking to people you trust can help get your mind off urges to self harm. You also might try other ways to cope with tough feelings. Maybe journaling, art, mindfulness or reaching out to your support network can help you process what's going on for you. headspace has a range of interactive activities that can help get you started.
There are also mental health professionals at headspace centres or eheadspace who can help you grow your coping skills. You'll get better at dealing with challenges and won't have to rely on self harming.
How can I help a young person who self harms?
The best way to help someone is to:
- listen to them
- give them support
- encourage them to connect with professional help.
Be as open as you can with the person and try to make them feel safe to discuss their feelings. Remain calm – they might be feeling ashamed of what they’ve done and worry about your judgements.
Don’t try to make ultimatums or force the person to stop – this could make things worse.
Ask the person directly if they’re considering suicide. If you think they are, call your local hospital or mental health service.
Call 000 or take the person to the emergency department of the local hospital if they need urgent medical attention and stay with them.
Supporting someone who self harms can be a stressful experience. Think about if it would be useful to get some advice or support for yourself.
When to get support
If you ever feel unable to cope because of intense emotions of if you have thoughts of harming yourself, then ask for help immediately.
For immediate help contact: triple zero (000) if it is an emergency
National 24/7 crisis services:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
Additional youth support services include:
- headspace: find your nearest centre or contact eheadspace
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 kidshelpline.com.au
- ReachOut: reachout.com
- SANE Australia: 1800 187 263 sane.org
For more information, to find your nearest headspace centre or for online and telephone support, visit eheadspace
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed: 10 March 2023