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. Self-harm includes 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 relatively common. Research shows that about 1% of Australians have self-harmed within the last month and about 8% have self-harmed in their lifetime. Most people start self-harming as a teenager or young adult. It can continue for many years and become a habit that is difficult to stop.

Examples of self-harm may include:

  • Cutting the skin with sharp objects
  • Taking an overdose of medication or drinking poison
  • Burning the skin
  • Hitting the body with fists or another object
  • Punching walls or other objects
  • Scratching or picking the skin, resulting in bleeding or welts
  • Pulling out hairs