Self-harm

Also known as self-injury

Self-harm is when you hurt your body on purpose to cope with feeling distressed and you don’t know how else to express your feelings.

Key points

  1. Self-harm is about finding a way to cope in order to keep living; it’s not an attempt to commit suicide.
  2. If you are self-harming, it’s important that you get help: More than half of the people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm.
  3. Self-harm is quite common, especially in young people. A Youth 2000 survey found that in 2012, 29% of female high school students and 18% of male high school students in New Zealand had self-harmed in the past 12 months.
  4. If you are self-harming, it’s important to know that there is help for you and there is hope that you can stop doing it.
If you have seriously injured yourself, or taken something poisonous or overdosed on medicine or drugs, call 111 and ask for an ambulance.
If you are trying to stop yourself from hurting yourself right now, you can get help from your local DHB’s mental health crisis assessment team. Find your local service by looking online at www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis or phoning Healthline 0800 611 116.

What are some examples of self-harm?

People can harm themselves by:

  • cutting or burning their skin, especially on their wrists, arms and legs
  • punching or hitting themselves
  • banging their head against a wall
  • pinching, biting or scratching at their skin
  • pulling out their hair or eyelashes
  • eating or drinking something poisonous
  • overdosing on drugs or medication – enough to hurt but not risk killing themselves
  • sniffing harmful substances.

Why do people self-harm?

There are underlying reasons for someone self-harming. They may be dealing with difficult life issues, such as childhood abuse or emotional neglect, bullying or exam pressures at school, identity issues around their sexuality, or other challenging life situations.

Someone who is self-harming may also be coping with mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.

What are the signs of self-harm?

People often try to keep self-harm a secret because they feel ashamed of what they are doing. For example, if they are cutting themselves, they might wear long sleeves.

If you think someone you care about is self-harming, look out for these signs:

  • unexplained cuts or bruises, or cigarette burns on places such as their wrists, arms, thighs or chest
  • keeping themselves fully covered, even when it is hot
  • having a low mood, being tearful or lacking motivation or interest in doing anything
  • talking about themselves in a negative way
  • saying they want to punish themselves for something
  • getting withdrawn and not speaking to other people
  • blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they're not good enough for something
  • signs they have been pulling out their hair or eyelashes
  • signs of misusing alcohol, drugs or medication.

What kind of treatment is there for self-harm?

You can get help for self-harm through support groups and psychological counselling or therapy. There are people with specialised knowledge of how to help someone who self-harms. They will be supportive and take your concerns seriously. They can help you to stop self-harming and deal with the difficulties in your life in ways that don’t hurt you.

You can contact your doctor to help you work out what kind of help would suit you best.

If you are self-harming because of sexual abuse or a sexual assault, ACC will subsidise (reduce the cost of) your counselling or therapy.

How can I help myself if I am self-harming?

The best thing you can do to help yourself is to tell someone you trust: a friend, family member or your doctor, or phone one of the helplines listed under Support. Don’t cope with this on your own. Remember: there is help and there is hope.

What support is available?

Phone support

  • Free call or text 1737 any time, 24 hours a day to speak to or text with a trained counsellor
  • Lifeline 24-hour phone 0800 543 354
  • Youthline phone 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666
  • Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOK0)
  • Healthline 0800 611 116
  • OUTLine 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) for confidential support for sexuality or gender identity issues
  • Your DHB mental health service. Find numbers at www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis

Online New Zealand support forums

  • SPARX,org.nz. An online self-help tool that teaches young people the key skills needed to help combat depression and anxiety.
  • The Journal. New Zealand based self-help programme designed to teach you skills that can help get through mild to moderate depression more effectively.
  • Online support community Big White Wall, for those who live in the Auckland DHB bigwhitewall.com/landing-pages/defaultnz.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2f

One-on-one support

One-to-one therapy and counselling can make a big difference. Ask your doctor to help you find someone suitable, or look on the Mental Health Foundation website for ideas.

You could also try this online training module to help you learn how to tolerate distress better from the Australian Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Support groups

In some areas, there are support groups for people who self-harm. Ask your doctor, counsellor therapist if there is one near you.

Learn more

Self-harm Kidshealth, NZ, 2015 

References

  1. Self-harm NHS Choices, UK, 2015
  2. Overview: The health and wellbeing of New Zealand secondary school students in 2012. (2013). Auckland, New Zealand The University of Auckland, NZ
  3. Self-harm Mental Health Foundation, NZ 
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Bev Haarhoff Last reviewed: 14 Sep 2017