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Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a way of expressing deep emotional feelings such as low self-esteem, or a way of coping with traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one.

Self-harm is an expression of personal distress, rather than an illness, although it can be linked to other mental health conditions such as depression.

An indicator of the deliberate infliction of harm to one's self may include:

  • cutting or slashing the skin
  • burning the skin
  • punching, biting or using blunt force on the body
  • hanging, strangulation, suffocation or self-poisoning
  • misusing alcohol or drugs
  • refusing food or water or eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating or bulimia.

People often try to keep self-harm a secret and may cover up their skin and avoid discussing the problem. The signs may include unexplained injuries and signs of depression or low self-esteem.

Someone who is self-harming can seriously hurt themselves, so it is important that they speak to a doctor about the underlying issue and about any treatment or therapy that might help them.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Self-harm)

Facts & figures

  • There were 24,087 cases of hospitalised self-harm in 2003-04.
  • Most cases (84%) were due to self-poisoning, followed by self-harm with a sharp object (11.9%).
  • More females (14,228 cases) than males (8,722) were admitted to hospital due to self-harm in 2003-04.
  • On average, each case of self-harm resulted in 2.7 days in hospital.
  • Three-quarters of all intentional self-harm cases were aged from 15-44 years. Of these, 28% were aged 15-24 years and 47% were aged 25-44 years.
  • The number of hospitalised self-harm cases peaked for females at the age of 15 to 19 years in 2003-04, and was over three times the rate for males in this age group.

Source: Australian Network for Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention for Mental Health (Australian Self-harm Statistics – Key Findings)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013