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Self-harm is more common than we would like and can be really damaging to a person’s physical and mental health. There are many reasons why someone self-harms, but most often it’s a way of coping with difficult emotions. A number of things can help if you’re self-harming, ranging from seeking professional help to practising self-help techniques.

This can help if:

  • you want to know more about self-harm and what to do about it
  • you’ve been intentionally hurting yourself
  • you know someone who is intentionally hurting themself.
Black and white photo of girl

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is when someone intentionally hurts themselves and can take many different forms. It might involve someone hurting themselves on the outside, but it can also involve hurting themselves on the inside, for by ingesting something dangerous.

Self-harm can result in serious injuries and sometimes even death. Talk to someone, call a doctor, or call 000 right away if you or someone you know is injured, and you’re worried.

Why do people self-harm?

There are many reasons why someone might self-harm. However, most often it’s a way of trying to cope with strong feelings and emotions.

We all need to learn to manage and regulate difficult feelings and emotions – it’s a part of growing up. But some people can find it particularly hard, and their emotions – feelings like guilt, sadness and self-hatred - can feel completely overwhelming. It might seem like self-harm can help to manage these emotions in the short term, but it can be really dangerous and have a negative impact in the long term.

Reasons young people have given for hurting themselves include:

  • to try and express complicated or hidden feelings
  • to communicate that they need some support
  • to prove to themselves that they’re not invisible
  • to feel in control
  • to get an immediate sense of relief.

It’s important to remember that self-harm isn’t just ‘attention seeking’, although some people might do it as a way of letting others know they aren’t coping. This might be because they don’t know any other way of telling people, or because they’re worried that others won’t take how they’re feeling seriously.

Despite what many people think, a person doesn’t usually self-harm because they want to die or they have suicidal thoughts. Read more about the difference between self-harm and suicidal behaviour here.

What to do about self-harm?

It can be really hard to change self-harming behaviours and learn better coping skills. If you self-harm and you want to stop, you’ll need to make a conscious decision to break that cycle. The good news is that there are many things you can do to help you stop self-harming

Seek professional help: There are a number of professional treatments available that can help you manage self-harm. Talk to a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist to learn about them and decide what might be best for you Psychological therapies can help you understand why you engage in self-harm and how to develop new ways of managing difficult emotions. The most common therapy for this is called DBT, or dialectical behaviour therapy. DBT is based on the idea of mindfulness and helps you learn specific skills for managing distress and regulating emotions.

Use online and phone services: If you’d rather not talk to someone face-to-face for now, check out information on support services such as Kids Helpline, Lifeline and eheadspace, which provide both phone and online support services.

Enlist a support team: There is always someone out there who cares about your welfare, whether it’s a family member, friend, counsellor or doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to tell someone how you’re feeling. If your parents are worried, you could suggest they check out ReachOut Parents to learn more about self-harm and how they can support you.

Practise self-help: There are techniques you can use to manage urges to self-harm. The more alternatives to self-harm you equip yourself with, the more likely you are to develop helpful coping strategies and not to rely on self-harm.

Try different things: Don’t be put off if your attempt to give up self-harm doesn’t work the first time. Different approaches, as well as different treatments, work for different people, so be prepared to experiment to find what works for you.

What can I do now?