Self harm refers to people deliberately hurting or mutilating their bodies without necessarily wanting to die. It often begins in the teenage years. Check out this page for videos and factsheets.

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Stressing out, feeling down, getting depressed or anxious - these are common experiences for young people. Rather than ignore these feelings and hope they go away, beyondblue encourages young people to seek help. But what does 'seeking help' actually involve? Who should you go to and how do you do it? In this video series, beyondblue takes a look at what it's like to get help from a range of professionals.

  • Author: youthbeyondblue
  • Upload Date: 11/5/2011

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A work by Kelly

I have been struggling with depression for about 5 months now. No one knows how depressed i am, as i don't show it. I always act happy and I tell everyone that I love my life etc. Yet i have a problem, I have been self harming for awhile now. I am struggling in school, and my relationship with my parents isn't great either. I always sleep, i like to sleep a lot because I don't have to worry about anything, i can just sleep and keep to myself. I want to get help but im scared to tell anyone.

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This is just about my life.

  • Author: Kelly
  • Upload Date: 2011-03-27

my struggles in life


Provided by headspace

We have partnered with headspace to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. headspace is Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation. headspace provides health advice, support and information for young people aged 12-25.

About self harm

what is self-harm?

self harm stop self harmingSelf-harm is when someone deliberately hurts or mutilates their body without the intention to die (although it can have lethal results). Self-harm often begins in teenage years and can be a way of communicating or coping with distress. Not all young people who self harm are suicidal. There are a number of reasons why someone may self-harm. These include: a way to ask for help, a way of coping with stress or emotional pain, a symptom of a mental illness like depression and/or it may indicate that someone is considering suicide.

what to look for

There are many different types of behaviours that can be considered self-harming. These include:

  • Self-cutting – eg cutting of any part of the body including the upper arms, wrists, or thighs
  • Self-poisoning – eg swallowing excessive amounts of prescribed or illegal drugs or other substances that cause harm
  • Self-burning – eg using cigarettes or lighters to burn the skin

There are other behaviours that are not formally considered to be self-harming behaviours but are 'risk taking' behaviours that can lead to personal harm. Some examples are train surfing, driving cars at high speed, illegal drug use, or repetitive unsafe sexual practices whilst knowing of safe sex practices.

what causes self-harm?

In most instances when someone self-harms it is an attempt to relieve, control or express distressing feelings. Young people self-harm for different reasons and sometimes it can be difficult to put the reasons into words. Some who self-harm may not know other ways of telling people about their emotional pain, and some may feel a sense of control over pain when they self-harm.

Some people are more at risk of self harming. They include people who have experienced:

  • Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • Stressful and highly critical family environments
  • And/or suffer from a mental illness, such as depression.

what you can do if you self harm?

Try to talk to someone about it. Telling a trusted adult can help to make sure you are safe and get medical assistance if you need it. If you repeatedly self-harm it is best to get some counselling as this can help you to feel better and find other ways of coping. If you are having suicidal thoughts you should see a professional or call your local hospital or lifeline (such as Kids help line on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14).

Counselling usually involves helping to increase problem solving, communication and coping skills. Sometimes this can take time so it’s best to keep attending counselling even if you think its not helping the first couple of times. Feeling guilty, angry, and/or ashamed can make seeking help difficult or scary. But trying to be open to counselling or support can assist you to feeling less overwhelmed and stressed in the long run.

self harm ice can be a safe alternative

Tips - some self-help techniques that may be helpful (these techniques may not work for everyone but it can be helpful to give them a try to see if you can find one that might work for you):

  • Using a red pen to mark the skin instead of cutting
  • Hitting a punch bag to vent anger or frustration
  • Exercising
  • Making lots of noise (e.g. with an instrument, banging pots and pans)
  • Writing your negative feelings on a piece of paper and then ripping it up
  • Scribbling on a large piece of paper with a red pen
  • Writing a diary or a journal
  • Talking to a friend (not necessarily about self-harm)
  • Doing a collage/artwork
  • Going online and looking at self-help websites

Using another, less harmful, type of self-harm can also be helpful, such as:

  • Rubbing ice on the skin instead of cutting
  • Putting elastic bands on the wrists and flicking them instead of cutting
  • Eating a chilli

how can you help a young person who self-harms?

Some young people stop self-harming on their own, while others need support to find new ways of coping. The best way to help someone you know that is self harming is to encourage and support them to seek professional help. Try to make them feel safe enough to discuss their feelings. Try to remain calm and maintain an open attitude, recognising the young person may feel ashamed of their actions and be fearful of your judgements. Phrases like 'attention seeking' or 'cry for help' can seem judgmental and may stop a young person from disclosing their self harm.

It is important that you ask the young person whether he/she feels suicidal. Call your local hospital or mental health service to get professional help if you think the young person is suicidal. Check out our section on suicide for more information. Initial treatment involves dealing with any immediate medical complications of self-harm, if present. Call an ambulance (000) or take the person to the accident and emergency department of the local hospital if the person needs urgent medical attention.

Supporting someone who self harms can be a stressful experience, so getting support for yourself is also recommended.

This information was produced by headspace in conjunction with ORYGEN Youth Health.


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16 Responses to “Self Harm”

  1. Jessica says:

    Talk to your doctor and ask for a cream to help get rid of your scares. Holding ice cubes in you hands also satisfys to eardge to cut yourself. this helped me 4 years ago when i selfharmed everyday.
    hope this helps and take care :)

  2. Amber says:

    ive cut myself/self harmed since i was 11. i told my best and most trusted friend that i do it and she didnt want to be friends with me anymore. it broke my heart and it just made me want to do it more.i had no friends i was just lonely. i promised her i would not do it so often as she was my best and only friend. ive continued to do it until now. im 14 in 2 months. my dad found out i did it a few weeks ago and he yelled at me for doing it. it was the reason i had done it. because he kept yelling and yelling and yelling. saying ill f****** kill myself and stuff like that and it was hard to cope. he kept having a go at me for it and it just made me want to do it more. the most recent self harm i have done was this morning, before that 2 days ago. i have my reasons though. i started when i was 11 because my mother and her parents had abused me all my life. she kicked me outta the house and stuff had happpened. i moved with my dad which i felt safer. recently i had 2 friends harm themselves and 1 in hospital twice and 1 of my mates that cut themselves 2 of the reasons were because of me. i couldnt cope so i hurt myself. i saw the other ways instead of self harming and they made me laugh. everyone has this stupid diception that if you harm your automatically emo. if you say you harm your an attention seeker. prove it to people your a mental psycho. this isnt right. i know im a hypocrit i tell people dont self harm and i do it myself but yes im a smart girl (doesnt sound like it i know) but i am and i should take my own advice but i dont and i have a bad history with cousellors. all im saying is dont yell at someone if they selfharm, be kind and gentle and understanding dont blab or bully them for it. thanks :/

    • lynz says:

      Hi Amber, you are so right people do need to be kind, gentle and understanding if someone tells them they are self harming, it can be hard to hear but you are right supporting and helping them will make a big difference to help them stop. Really sorry to hear that you are not getting that support you deserve, it sounds like you are having some tough times. I know you said that you have not had much luck with counsellors, it can certainly take visiting a few until you find the right one. We would really encourage you to try again – how about trying one of the online services at http://www.eheadspace.org.au you can chat online, we have heard really great things about that. Please take great care, check out the factsheet above with some alternatives to cutting. Thanks again for leaving your comment, very brave to share your story and for reminding us to support those around us. Lynz

    • Lisa says:

      wow, what a wise person you are. I found your comments very helpful. I am a nana and my granddaughter is self harming, it seems, to cope with pain. She is much loved and supported. I am currently researching this subject and ways to help her. For yourself, I send comfort and support and a pair of warm hugging arms. I sense you could be a councilor in a future career.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Amber, Thank you for sharing your life with us, My daughter is 15 and has been abused on the internet when she was 13, she was threatened and too scared to tell us, it has ended now but she has really bad memories of the threats and sometimes talks about suicide and cutting herself, she suffers depression and chronic fatigue, I have anxiety and so does my other daughter so we understand her and support her, but there are others that say she is just attention seeking and get angry about it, which is just because they don’t understand the situation and because they cant fix it..its very frustrating but like you said people going through this need love and support not anger and punishment.. thanks once again for your story, please look after yourself and im sure you will one day be able to help others and be a great support because of what you have been through..take care, regards Jennifer :-) )

      • lynz says:

        Hi Jennifer, how wonderful that your support your daughter so strongly.

        We thought you or your daughter might be interested in this blog series here on TINO written by a young girl who also suffers with Chronic Fatigue and depression – she shares an amazing story, lots of helpful info.


      • Rita says:

        Could someone please give me some advise on how to help a young woman who continuosly and horrendously self harms we have tried all therapies even having her in a mental health unit to no avail she still continues HELP thank you

        • lynz says:

          Hi Rita, fist off your friend is very lucky to have you looking out for her, it is by having friends that care and want to help that can really make a difference. Unfortunately we can’t provide one on one counselling ere on TINO, but we recommend contacting a service such as http://www.headspace.org.au. or kids helpline for advice. We hope she finds a place which can assist her. Take care of yourself too.

  3. tejay says:

    hey there i am a self harmer i have realised what it has done tom my family im 15 in a few months i have been self harming for about 5 years now, i lived on the streets for about 5 weeks and i was being abused by my so called friends,i stopped going to school because i could not cope and most of the time i was in hospital i had no friends and i got into drugs really bad i have stopped using drugs, i am still not able to control my cutting, but i have gone back to school (3 years later) and i am enjoying it, but there is something different about me, when i pick up a knife or a razor i loose control ,my mind blanks and i dont know what i am doing , i have been clean for about 2 weeks now, and i am so god damn proud of myself

    • lynz says:

      Hey Tejay – that is brilliant news that you have been able to have a great two weeks – we are proud of you too :) We hope you can keep it going, your story is inspiring to have many difficult challenges show but manage to overcome so many is amazing – stand proud.

  4. bec says:

    hi, I just found out my beautiful little sister is self harming herself. she has just disclosed this to me. I am trying to find some information on ways to help her. we talked about being suicidal and she said that’s not why she does it. I was able to respond ok I guess as only 2 weeks ago I watched a show on insight about self harm and found it quiet interesting, I didn’t realise it was so close to home. I am so glad I watched it though as it really helped me to listen and not to get angry at her but instead talk about why she does this and what we could do together to stop her or do it in a safer way. I asked her to go and see her councillor at school but I’m thinking of taking her to see a councillor, is this ok do you think? I don’t want to push her or take over at all but I’m the only family she has told so far. I try my best to be open, honest and listen to her as I am a fair bit older then her and our older sisters usually led me into trouble rather then be a supportive protective sister. any advice would really be appreciated. thanks.

    • lynz says:

      Hi Bec – what a great sister you are being, it sounds like the show has given to some great information to handle the situation so well. Suggesting to see a counsellor is great and going along for support, if that is what she would like, is a fantastic show of support and will certainly let her know how supported she is. We would recommend contacting headspace and see if they have a service near you, they are youth orientated and the whole process is set up to feel comfortable and welcoming. http://www.headspace.org.au – take great care

  5. mum says:

    never would I have imagined my beautiful 12 year old daughter self harming. as a parent, I sit back and go through when she was born and pick at all the things I could have done better with her. One minute you are chasing them down the hallway with a puppet in your hand and the next they are showing you razor scars on their body crying and shaking. she wont eat, she hides in her room all day long, im just so sad. we are taking steps to encourage her and support her but I just cant believe I stuffed it up as a parent for her

    • lynz says:

      Dear Mum – so sorry to hear that you and your daughter are having such a tough time, your message just sounds full of love and concern, we are sure having you there as support is helping. Although we can’t provide one on one advice, we do suggest contacting a service like http://www.headspace.org.au and having a chat with someone at your local clinic so see what they can advise. We wish you all the best. Lynsey

  6. caitlin says:

    I have self harmed for four years and my parents have already shown a huge distaste for mental illnesses for quiet some time i found this out when i had to do an assessment for school. Anyway at the third year my niece (18) saw cuts on my shoulder and i told her to cram it. Little did i know she had told my sister about it (nurse for the elderly only needs a year of uni to be a qualified nurse) my sister had then told my mother and it was all a waiting game to them until they had confrunted me on a night where i was already in trouble. My mother vigerously man handled me and ripped all of my clothes off (except for a bra and underwear) this made me have a panic attck she grabbed every bit of my body scanning for cuts and i had a lot, she then proceeded to show my dad (all he did was cry and ask why) I then had to go to my neighbours house (we had to baby sit the animals) which my mother had told me “because of this your father is immediatly on suicide watch” This made me feel so god damn horrible and all i did was cry, my mother was treating me so horribly about the same way i had treated my own body, she rang my sister which had to drive half an hour to baby sit me so that my mother could check on my father, she soon came back and stripped me infront of my sister and all my sister said was “so what ive seen them heaps of times, ive known all along” Her boyfriend was over at the time and they had a big group hug…without me, i felt so alone and isolated when i should have been the one getting so much but yet i got nothing. Im going to a psychologist now and i have been for almost a year and i hate her she just looks at me and it makes me feel as though she doesnt want to hear about my crap, my mother treats me like shit and has practically disowned me and my own boyfriend is so appauled with how she acted and is still acting. My father makes fun of me saying “dont be mean to caitlin, she’ll just have a mental breakdown” then laughs

    Moral to the story: Actually know if your parents are going to be supportive of you because if they aren’t then they’ll just be like my parents.

    • lynz says:

      Hi Caitlin, so sorry to hear what a tough time you are having, and sorry your parents haven’t been able to support you the way you deserve – a huge well done of going to see a psychologist, quite a few young people have shared their story on here about it needing to visit a few before they found the one who worked for them – Xin talks about it really well here in his blog http://www.tuneinnotout.com/blog/is-it-ok-to-see-a-counsellor/ perhaps you could try another and see if that works out better? we hope over time you parents can learn how to maneg their own emotion to better help you. Pleased you have the support there of your boyfriends – stay safe and we really hope this improve soon.

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