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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.

Last reviewed: November 2017

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Suicide and Self-Harm - Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health

People who engage in self-harm deliberately hurt their bodies. The term 'self-harm' (also referred to as 'deliberate self-injury' or parasuicide) refers to a range of behaviours, not a mental disorder or illness.

Read more on Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health website


Self-harm refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies. Its usually done in secret and on parts of the body that may not be seen by others. The most common type of self-harm is cutting, but there are many other ways of self-harming including burning or punching the body, or picking skin or sores.

Read more on beyondblue website


What is self-harm? Self-harm means any behaviour which involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself – usually as an extreme way of trying to cope with distressing or painful feelings.

Read more on Mi Networks website

Self-harm and teenagers - ReachOut Parents

Learn about self-harm and get tips on supporting your teenager who may be self-harming.

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Self-harm: what is it?

Self-harm involves deliberately physically harming oneself.

Read more on Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders website


Self-harm means any behaviour which involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself usually as an extreme way of trying to cope with di...

Read more on SANE Australia website

Self-harm | ReachOut Australia

Self-harm is often a way of coping with strong emotions. It can be hard to change self-harming behvaiours but with the right help you can learn more positive coping skills.

Read more on website

What is self-harm? | Self-harm | ReachOut Australia

There are many reasons why someone self-harms, but most often its a way of coping with difficult emotions.

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Self-harm | Head to Health

Self-harm can be confronting and hard to understand. When someone self-harms, it is often a sign of deep emotional issues that they are unable to resolve.

Read more on Head to Health website

Self-harm | WayAhead

Self-harm involves deliberately physically harming oneself. This definition does not include socially accepted self-harm such as smoking, tattooing, and body piercing. It is a broad range of behaviours, and it is not necessarily related to a mental illness or a disorder. Self-harm is the result of overwhelming feelings

Read more on WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW website

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