Self Harm & Suicide

image of broken glass - links to self harm page

Self-harm and suicidal thoughts can be ways of managing or avoiding overwhelming feelings. But there are alternatives.

Self-harm is usually defined as deliberate self-injury without the thoughts or intention of wanting to die. However a person could also be experiencing thoughts of suicide alongside thoughts of self-harm. Self-harm can sometimes be a way of managing thoughts of suicide. Examples of self-harm include cutting the skin, burning the skin, hitting the body with fist or with another object, punching walls, scratching, picking at skin, pulling out hair.

People who experience thoughts of suicide generally don’t want to die but don’t want to live with the pain they are experiencing. Thoughts of suicide usually come from a feeling of hopelessness. Suicide can be prevented.

If you feel unsafe right now it is really important to seek immediate support.

You can contact:

  • Mental Health Triage on 13 14 65 (SA only), or
  • attend your local Emergency Department,
  • or call 000 for ambulance or police.

Strategies often suggested

  • Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings
  • Recognise times when you are at most risk
  • Learn more about the warning signs
  • Put a safety plan in place to help reduce the likelihood of acting on thoughts
  • Develop distraction techniques for self harm urges: 
    • wait 15 minutes to see if the urge passes 
    • go for a walk 
    • connect with others 
    • meditate
    • take a bath 
    • listen to music 
    • place a block of ice against the skin 
    • draw.
  • Talk to a professional such as a GP, Mental Health Worker or Counsellor

Blocks

Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent us from seeking help when we most need it.

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  • Emotional numbness

    This can drive us to seek sensations that might make us feel alive or real (potentially leading to self harm). It can also be a way of feeling more in control of our life.  

  • Negative thoughts

    At times we can feel so overwhelmed that it is hard to think clearly about the future and how to manage negative thoughts and feelings such as sadness, loneliness, guilt and anger. Some of us will punish ourselves for something we may have done or that we perceive as our fault. It can be way of communicating with others how we are feeling and our need for support.

  • Disconnection from others and relationships

    Withdrawing from social connections and supports is common and can almost feel logical when we are not feeling mentally well. This unfortunately can lead us to feel increasingly lonely and isolated and this in turn leads to an increased tendency to isolate further. People often talk about feeling like they are a burden to their family and friends. The reality is that a depressed brain makes it very difficult to think helpfully or to see what is real around us.

Boosters

Below are three things you can do to boost success.

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  • Connect with trusted friends and family

    During difficult times staying connected and seeking support from friends and family can significantly improve lowered mood. Talking to others helps us build a connection to what is meaningful in life. Talking to someone can be the first step in accessing support. It can help us to identify why we have thoughts of self-harm or suicide and provide us with the opportunity to discuss with another person the type of support that would be helpful.

  • Develop a safety plan

    Developing a safety plan and sharing this with others, including a counsellor, can be a way to engage helpful support in order to manage difficult periods. A safety plan is something that is designed for the individual and therefore is a clear ‘roadmap’ for the support you need. Beyondblue have an app that can be used to design a safety plan.   

    We can also try keeping a diary and writing down when we do and don’t self-harm. It can help to identify the times, places and feelings which have led to self-harm. Recognising triggers can help us to avoid those situations and/or develop strategies.

  • Seek professional support

    Seeking professional support from, for example a GP, Mental Health Services, Counselling Support or an Emergency Department is something strongly recommended. Emergency Department help is something you can always seek yourself if you are not safe but the links below can guide how best to access support. Phoning lifeline for guidance is a good start: phone 13 11 14.