Self harm

We are all impacted by and cope with events and experiences in different ways. At Lifeline, we are here for you and will listen with respect and without judgement.

What is self harm?

Self-harm is any behaviour that involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself without wanting to die. Self-harm can include behaviours such as cutting, burning or hitting oneself, binge-eating or starvation, or repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations. It can also involve abuse of drugs or alcohol, including overdosing on prescription medications. Self-harm is usually a response to distress, whether it be from mental illness, trauma, or psychological pain. Some people find that the physical pain of self-harm helps provide temporary relief from emotional pain.

One of the main predictors of suicide is a previous episode of self-harm. While it is common for people who self-harm to state that they have no intention of dying and that their self- harming behaviour is a coping strategy, the risk of accidental death is very real. People who self-harm repeatedly may find it becomes a compulsion that they cannot stop. This may lead to feelings of hopelessness and possible suicidal thoughts. Similarly, if self-injury does not relieve the tension or help control negative thoughts and feelings, the person may injure themselves more severely or may start to believe they can no longer control their pain and may consider suicide. In addition, some people who self-harm do also experience thoughts of suicide.

There are various reasons people may engage in self-harming behaviours, such as helping to:

  • Deal with or stop negative emotions or pain such as feeling hopeless, anxious or rejected
  • Punish themselves for something they have done or something they perceive as their fault
  • Release tension or a build-up of emotions.
  • Relieve feelings of loneliness or isolation
  • Feel ‘alive’ or ‘real’, or to combat feelings of numbness
  • Feel more in control of life
  • Communication to people that they need some support when they feel unable to use words

People who self-harm may not necessarily intend to end their lives; however, the consequences of their risky behaviour can be fatal, and it needs careful assessment and care by a health professional.

It can be hard for people who self-harm to stop it by themselves. That’s why it’s important to get further help if needed; however, the ideas below may be helpful to start relieving some distress:

  • Delay — put off self-harming behaviours until you have spoken to someone.
  • Distract — do some exercise, go for a walk, play a game, do something kind for yourself, play loud music, or use positive coping strategies.
  • Deep breathing — or other relaxation methods.

You may find that some of these strategies work in some situations but not others, or you may find that you need to use a combination of these. It is important to find what works for you. Also, remember that these are not long-term solutions to self-harm but rather, are useful short-term alternatives for relieving distress.

It can be difficult to know what to do and how to cope, but help is available. Below are some places to go for information and support. If life is in danger, please call 000.

If you are in danger call 000


For Crisis Support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24/7) or via text (12pm-midnight AEST) on 0477 13 11 14

Jaz's Story

As a young girl, Jaz loved playing soccer and riding her BMX bike. When she hit puberty, her love of life deserted her. She’d spend hours standing in front of the mirror, arms straight by her sides wishing she could always hide her curves. For the next 20 years she tried to destroy herself, the pain seemed like her only comfort.

She wanted to transition but worried about acceptance. Today, he is 37 and three years into his transition. All along, he has been supported and loved by mum Sheree who has even helped pay for surgery and observed: “Every parent has dreams for their children, but you have to realise your dreams aren’t their dreams. It’s their life and they have to do what makes them happy.”