Understanding self harm - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Understanding self harm

What is self-harm?

Usually self-harm is when you deliberately hurt yourself to cause pain or injury, without wanting to die.

Some people think self-harm is done to gain attention or manipulate others, however, this is usually not the case. It’s usually done to help cope with difficult or painful feelings and it may also help with feeling more in control. Although it may provide short-term relief, it does not resolve difficult feelings and it could even lead to a serious medical emergency.

Examples of self-harm behaviour include
  • Binge-eating or starvation
  • Cutting, burning, or hitting oneself
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Pulling out hairs
  • Punching walls or other objects
  • Repeatedly putting oneself in dangerous situations
  • Scratching or picking the skin
  • Taking an overdose of medication or drinking poison

If you have self-harmed, ensure that you clean and bandage the injury to avoid infection.

If you have hurt yourself more than you expected, get medical advice from your local doctor or hospital, or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak to a registered nurse.

Things that can help
Talk to someone

Talking can help ease your pain. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a family member or friend, you can talk to a doctor, counsellor, teacher, or call a crisis line, like Lifeline (131 114).

Identify triggers

Identify and write down times, places, or feelings you have when you self-harm and those times, places, or feelings you have when you’re less likely to self-harm. This will help you avoid those situations that trigger that behaviour. As well as helping you see a pattern, this exercise of writing things down is a way to express your emotions which may help you cope better.

Distract yourself

When you feel the need to self-harm, wait 15 minutes. During that time, do something that redirects your attention away from the desire to self-harm. This can include going for a walk, playing a game, exercising, mindfulness activities, or talking to someone. Often the urge to self-harm will reduce after a period of time.

Use a different tactic

Instead of self-harming, do an activity that has a similar effect but without causing injury, eg instead of cutting, draw on your arm, hold an ice-cube, or snap a rubber band on your wrist.


Deep breathing or any other relaxation method can help you cope with overwhelming feelings.

Where do I go for professional help?

Free counselling services are offered through Student Wellbeing to all USC students. Student Wellbeing is situated on the Ground Floor of Building E at the USC Sunshine Coast campus and can be contacted on +61 7 5430 1226. Alternatively, your GP can provide you with a referral to a private psychologist in the community and for more information on this process, visit Australian Government, Department of Health, Better access to mental health care: fact sheet for patients.

Where do I go for more info?
Adapted from

Bernstein, L. (2015). 10 apps to relax your body and mind. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/04/stressapps_n_4018753.html

headspace. (2014). Self-harm and suicidal behaviours. Retrieved from http://www.headspace.org.au/what-works/research-information/self-harm-and-suicidal-behaviours

Healthline. (2014). The best depression iPhone and android apps of the year. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/top-depression-iphone-android-apps

Lifeline. (2010). Self-harm. Retrieved from https://www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help/Facts---Information/Self-harm

Sane. (2014). Self-harm. Retrieved from http://www.sane.org/information/factsheets-podcasts/935-self-harm

More information

Contact Student Wellbeing

General enquiries
Tel: +61 7 5430 1226
Email: Studentwellbeing@usc.edu.au

Opening hours
Monday–Friday: 8.30am–4:30pm