Self harm

According to a large study on self-harm conducted in 2008 by the University of Queensland, 220,000 Australians injured themselves deliberately without meaning to suicide, in the month prior to the survey. That’s extraordinary!

At KidsHelpline in 2010 more than 11,000 contacts (18% of all counselling sessions) reported engaging in self-injury, a 36% increase on the previous year.

Of most concern is the number of young people who choose to deliberately hurt themselves, and the reasons they do it.

What is going on here?

People who self-harm are usually feeling under tremendous emotional pressure, while at the same time they lack good strategies to cope effectively – they are overwhelmed. And they perceive that the emotional support they need isn’t there. [It may be a misperception, but they can’t see it.]

They are trying to deal with intense emotional pain in a way that works for them, at least temporarily. The behaviour can become compulsive, and include loads of shame and self-hatred, often leading to isolation from others.

Generally people who self-harm are not intending to kill themselves, but those with a history of self-harm do have an increased risk of later suicide attempts.

What makes it more likely someone will self-harm?

  • Kids with high levels of depression and anxiety had a fourfold risk of self-harming 6 months later in one Australian study.
  • Other factors, such as alcohol and substance use – both tobacco and cannabis use – are linked with the onset of self-harm.
  • Early sexual activity is predictive of self-harm.
  • Self-harming students are often on the margins of family and school.
  • A history of trauma or abuse
  • Same-sex attraction
  • Impulsivity



People who blame themselves when stressed, or find it hard to ask family for support, or can’t easily identify or communicate feelings are also at risk.

The more of these risk factors someone has, the more likely they will self-harm.

Click here for further reading for young people and their parents.