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Self-esteem and mental health

8-minute read

Key facts

  • While we all criticise ourselves from time to time, if you often think badly about yourself you may have low self-esteem.
  • Low self-esteem may be caused by experiences in early childhood, such as bullying or neglect.
  • If you have low self-esteem, you may have difficulty with relationships and problems at work or school.
  • You can improve your self-esteem by challenging negative thoughts and celebrating your achievements.

What is self-esteem?

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 or judge yourself negatively, you may have low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is different to self-confidence. Confidence relates to a person’s ability in a particular area of their life. It is normal to feel confident in some areas and less so in others.

What are the signs of low self-esteem?

Signs of low self-esteem include if you:

  • say negative things and are critical about yourself
  • focus on your negatives and ignore your achievements
  • think other people are better than you
  • think you don’t deserve to have fun
  • don’t accept compliments
  • avoid challenges for fear of failing
  • find it difficult to make friends

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes low self-esteem?

Your self-esteem can be affected by factors such as:

  • your confidence — not feeling secure in yourself and in your life
  • your identity — you may have doubts about your gender, sexuality or body
  • your sense of belonging — feeling like you don’t belong with family, friends or at work

Low self-esteem may stem from experiences in childhood or adolescence such as:

  • being bullied or not fitting in at school
  • not receiving support from your parents
  • being neglected or abused
  • comparing yourself to others on social media
  • performing poorly at school
  • stressful life events such as divorce or moving home
  • chronic medical problems

What are the effects of low self-esteem?

If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts and is in immediate danger, call triple zero (000). For help and support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you have low self-esteem, you may:

  • have difficulty with relationships
  • feel sad, depressed, anxious, ashamed, angry or worthless
  • have low motivation
  • struggle to cope with difficulties in your life
  • feel insecure
  • avoid activities where you may be judged by other people

Young people with low self-esteem may:

Low self-esteem may also be associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, antisocial behaviour, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.

How can I improve my self-esteem?

To improve your self-esteem, try these new ways of thinking:

  • Focus on things you are good atWhat are your strengths, abilities and achievements?
  • Celebrate the small things — Give yourself a pat on the back when you achieve something.
  • Challenge your negative thinking — Make an effort to be kind to yourself and take notice when you are thinking negatively about yourself.
  • Focus on what you can change — Don’t worry about things you can’t change.
  • Stop beating yourself up about mistakes — Everyone makes mistakes.

Here are some practical things you can do to make you feel better about yourself:

  • Do things you enjoy — It’s easier to be positive when you are doing things you like.
  • Spend time with people who don’t bring you down.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Be helpful to other people.

When should I see my doctor?

If your low self-esteem doesn’t improve and is affecting your day-to-day activities, it’s important to seek help. You can talk to your doctor or a mental health professional such as a psychologist.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Resources and support

If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • Head to Health — for advice and to get connected to local mental health services, you can call 1800 595 212. Check the operating times.
  • MindSpot — for anyone suffering from anxiety or depression, call 1800 61 44 34.
  • Beyond Blue — for anyone feeling depressed or anxious, call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Lifeline — for anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide, call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service — for anyone thinking about suicide, call 1300 659 467.
  • MensLine Australia — telephone and online counselling for men call 1300 78 99 78.
  • Kids Helpline — telephone and online counselling for ages 5 to 25 call 1800 55 1800.
  • ReachOut — for online mental health services for young people and their parents.
  • Headspace — for mental health information, group chat and online communities.
  • SANE Australia — for mental health information, peer support and counselling support.
  • Black Dog Institute — online help for people affected by depression and extreme mood swings.

Do you prefer to read in languages other than English?

Looking for information for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people?

  • Yarn Safe and Wellmob have mental health information and resources for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.


University of Queensland (Self-esteem and self-confidence), (Self-esteem and teenagers), (10 tips for improving your self-esteem), Pubmed (Low Self-Esteem and Its Association with Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation in Vietnamese Secondary School Students: A Cross-Sectional Study), ReachOut (Self-esteem and social media)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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