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Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It is a response to 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 may provide short-term relief from painful feelings, but they usually come back and the urge to self-harm returns. It can become compulsive and the cycle can be hard to break. People who self-harm are usually not trying to commit suicide, but they are at risk of accidentally killing themselves. Repeated self-harm can also lead to people feeling suicidal and hopeless. If you have feelings of wanting to harm or kill yourself, call Lifeline on 13 11 14..

Some ways people self-harm 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.

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Last reviewed: November 2017

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