Self-harm and self-injury

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

Why do people self-harm?

In general people self-harm as a way of coping. People often talk about harming themselves to relieve, control or express distressing feelings, thoughts or memories. Some people harm themselves because they feel alone, while others do so to punish themselves due to feelings of guilt or shame. However, the relief they experience after self-harming is only short term and at some point the difficult feelings usually return. With the return of these feelings often comes an urge to self-harm again. This cycle of self-harm is often difficult to break.

Most people who self-harm are not trying to kill themselves, but there's a chance that they may hurt themselves more than they intended to; this increases their risk of accidental suicide. People who repeatedly self-harm may also become suicidal and feel hopeless and trapped. 

Replace your self-harm with something less harmful

Try a few of these to see if they work for you

  • Try holding ice cubes on your hand – cold causes pain but is not dangerous to your health.
  • Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you feel the need.
  • Use a red pen to draw on the areas you might normally cut.
  • Work it off with exercise.
  • Scribble with red pen on a piece of paper.
  • Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Try and focus on something around you, something simple, watch it for a while and see if that can distract you from the negative thoughts.
  • Talk with someone.

If you find it hard to remember your options, write them down or put them in your phone to refer to when you need it.

How can friends and family help

If you are worried about them let them know and talk about it with them. We've put together some helpful tips on the Having a conversation with someone you're worried about page of this website to get you started.  

Listen

By listening you can begin to understand what is happening and why. Be open to hearing what is happening without judgement and with respect.

Talk about it

Let them know you are there for them. You might find it hard to understand but you can support them. Be realistic; self-harming can take a while to stop. Encourage them when you notice that they have coped with difficult things without self-harming and help them to achieve the goals they set for themselves.

Take care of yourself

It can be overwhelming and at times distressing to know someone you care about is self-harming. To look after others you need to also look after yourself – try to get enough sleep, keep fit and healthy, and seek your own support from friends or professionals.

Get support

Having supportive people around you is always important. Surround yourself with people that you trust, who will listen to you without judgement and who you enjoy being with. It’s good to work on some things that you can do for yourself, but you don't to have to face this challenge alone. It's important to let others know how you feel when things don’t go to plan. Don’t build up worries, anger or disappointments – talk about them.

A counsellor, psychologist or GP can help you to work out what is triggering your self-harm and begin to work with you on managing your difficult thoughts and feelings. Talk to your GP or find a mental health professional. You can also call a crisis line like Lifeline – 13 11 14.

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