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Self-esteem and mental health

Self-esteem is the way we think about ourselves and the value we place on ourselves.

We all criticise ourselves from time to time, but if you often think badly about yourself, you may have low self-esteem. You may not know the cause of your low self-esteem but there are steps you can take to improve it.

Signs of low self-esteem

Signs of low self-esteem include:

  • saying negative things and being critical about yourself
  • focusing on your negatives and ignoring your achievements
  • thinking other people are better than you
  • not accepting compliments
  • feeling sad, depressed, anxiety, ashamed or angry.

Effects of low self-esteem

If you have low self-esteem you may have difficulty with relationships and problems at work or school. You may become very upset by criticism or disapproval and withdraw from activities and people.

You could also have problems with your body image, drink too much alcohol or take drugs and you might not stand up for yourself when you are bullied or abused.

How to improve your self-esteem and mental health

To improve your self-confidence and build your self-respect you can:

  • think about things you are good at – what are your strengths?
  • celebrate the small things in your life – give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve even a small thing
  • challenge your negative thinking – look for alternative explanations and put things into perspective
  • think about things you can change – don’t worry about things you can’t change
  • avoid trying to do things perfectly – perfection is not possible
  • stop beating yourself up if you make mistakes – everyone makes mistakes
  • do things you enjoy – it’s easier to be positive when you are doing things you like
  • be with people who don’t bring you down
  • volunteer to help people – this can make you feel better about yourself
  • exercise – it can improve your mood.

Where to get help

If your low self-esteem continues, talk to your doctor, a counsellor, a close friend or a member of your family.

You may want to seek advice from:

  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636
  • Kids Helpline (telephone and online counselling for ages 5-25) – call 1800 55 1800
  • Raising Children Network (children to teenagers) – online parenting support network
  • (youth mental health service) – online help.


Last reviewed: September 2015

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