This general information is provided as a guide for young people, parents and caregivers, service professsionals and schools. If you find incorrect information please contact us to have the relevant page updated.

Self Harm

What is Self Harm?

Self harm (now also known as Non Suicidal Self Injury – NSSI) is when a person deliberately hurts or injures oneself without the intent to die. Self harming behaviour in young people is not uncommon. It often starts in early adolescence but may not be discovered for some time as it is usually kept hidden.

There are often differences in the way resources and services define self harm. The consensus exists that self harm is a complex and challenging group of behaviours which emerge most commonly during adolescence.

There is a clear distinction between self harm and suicide. This distinction lies in the intent. In most instances, those who self harm do not intend to end their lives. However, regardless of the intent, self harm must be taken seriously.

Common self harm behaviours include, but are not limited to:

  • Cutting or scratching the skin;
  • Self burning e.g. using cigarettes or lighters to burn the skin;
  • Punching oneself or other objects such as walls or doors;
  • Head banging; and
  • Pulling hair out.

Why do people self harm?

There is a common held belief that self harming is an "attention seeking" behaviour; however this is not the case. There are many reasons why people self harm

Some typically reported reasons can include:

  • To cope with feelings of extreme emotional pain, such as helplessness, despair, anger, loneliness, shame, guilt, tension and stress.
  • To manage feeling disconnected and isolated from others some people feel that hurting themselves helps them to feel real or connected to other people
  • To try to gain control. Some people feel that hurting themselves gives them a sense that they are regaining some level of control (in the short term).
  • To communicate distress. Some people don’t know how to verbally express their emotions and do it through self harm.
  • As self punishment, as a result of self loathing some people believe they deserve to be punished.
  • Family circumstances and genetic factors such as a family history of mental illness may also increase an individual’s likelihood to self harm.



  • If recent self harm act – ascertain what form of medical intervention is needed (e.g. first aid, admission to emergency department).
  • Develop a safety plan with the young person, identifying alternative strategies to cutting and also identifying people that they can call up on when they are feeling distressed.
  • Stay calm.
  • Understanding the reasons for self-harm will be helpful in suggesting alternative ways of expressing their pain.
  • Discuss strategies with your local community mental health service.
  • Suggest relevant websites if the young person is not willing to talk.


  • If you are hurting yourself – tell someone to make sure you are safe.
  • Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling (family, friend, school teacher, doctor).
  • Seek medical help if you have just self harmed.
  • Call Crisis line 1800 019 116 or
  • Call Kids help line 1800 551 800.
  • Check out websites to help you.


  • Don’t panic.
  • Attend to medical needs of person – first aid/ emergency department.
  • Self harming is an expression of distress.
  • Don’t blame or chastise the person.
  • Assist the person to find supports/services that may be able to help them.
  • Contact local mental health service for guidance or advice.

Useful Websites


Crisis Phone Numbers

  • Crisis Line: 1800 019 116
  • Kids Help Line: 1800 551 80