Self-harm and self-injury

Why people self-harm, and what you can do to help yourself or someone you care about.

This article was written in consultation with Beyond Blue. Medibank and Beyond Blue are working together to empower all people in Australia to be better connected with knowledge, resources and support to improve their mental health and wellbeing. For further information from Beyond Blue on self-harm please click here.


Self-harm is usually a way to deal with negative feelings or distress that can become a habit. But help and support are available.

Jump to section: Prevention strategiesHelping others | Getting support 

What is self-harm?

Self-harm, or self-injury, is when someone purposefully injures or harms themselves, without intending to suicide.  They might cut, burn, scratch or harm themselves another way, and often they’ll try to hide the signs. Usually, it’s a way to deal with negative feelings or distress. For some people, causing physical pain to themselves is a way to cope with emotional pain. The specific reasons differ from person to person, but they can include hoping for a sense of relief or control, or sometimes an outlet to express what they’re going through. But ultimately, the distress or feelings are still there, so self-harm becomes a habit that keeps happening.

It’s important that while most people are not intending to die, there is a chance that they may hurt themselves more than they intended, and this increases their risk of suicide. If you are worried about someone or are not sure if they intend to suicide, seek help immediately and call 000.  

What can you do when you think you might harm yourself?

You can learn to cope with uncomfortable emotions and experiences. It can help to learn to spot the patterns when you’re more likely to harm yourself, as well as noticing what makes you feel better. Try to think of other ways you could respond to the things that trigger you, and what support from friends or family could help you. As you move forward you might have some setbacks—if that happens be gentle with yourself, it can take time to develop new ways to cope.

It’s important to address the underlying issues that are leading to self-harm, but there are some strategies that might help in the short term.

In the moment you feel like you might be about to hurt yourself, there are some things you can try:

Find ways to feel more relaxed

Taking a few deep breaths or using other relaxation techniques can help you to calm down in the moment. Learning mindfulness techniques may also be helpful—you could download an app such as Smiling Mind which has guided meditations.

Download your Medibank Better Minds App 

Want to manage your mental health on your own terms, in your own time? Medibank’s Better Minds app provides wellbeing checks, personalised skills training and one-on-one coaching with health professionals for anyone who may need extra support. And it’s all included with your hospital cover.€ Find out more

Replace self-harm with something less harmful

When you feel the urge to harm yourself, try doing something like eating a spicy or sour food, holding an ice cube in your hand, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist. Or you could use a pen to draw on your skin instead of cutting or burning. 

Start a journal

Writing down your feelings can help give you a safe outlet to express yourself. It can also help to track when you feel the urge to self-harm, and when you feel good. This can help you become more aware of what your triggers are so you can think about some strategies to cope in a healthier and safer way. 


Getting your body moving can lift your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.

Ring or message someone for a chat

Having someone to talk to can help you feel better and you might no longer feel the urge.

Try a distraction

When you feel like you’re about to harm yourself, try doing something else to distract yourself, such as going for a walk, listening to music, drawing, playing a game or even just having a shower. 

Reach out for support

It’s easier to cope with tough experiences and emotions when you have support, so try to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with who you can talk to.  If you’re not sure where to start, try spending time with people you genuinely like and enjoy, who care about you. 

How to help someone else

If you’re worried that someone you care about is self-harming, it can help to listen as non-judgementally as you can. Reassure them that you’re there for them and encourage them to talk their GP or mental health professional. It’s also important to be patient, it can take some time for someone who is self-harming to stop.

Where to get help

The best place to start is by speaking to your GP or health practitioner. They will be able to assess your individual situation and recommend the best next steps for your recovery.

Our team of mental health professionals are here to support you on our 24/7 Mental Health Phone Support line. It’s available to Medibank members with hospital cover 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

If at any point you feel like someone’s life is in danger, seek immediate help. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support and call 000 if you believe that someone’s life is in danger.

For more support and information



Black Dog Institute 

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Make the most of your cover 

As an eligible Medibank member, you get more than just health insurance. You get extra support when you need it most. 

24/7 Mental Health Phone Support

Members with Hospital cover~ can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

Telehealth services

Access mental health services from the comfort of your own home. Medibank members with eligible extras can access psychology or counselling consultations face-to-face or through telehealth, with benefits payable towards Medibank recognised Counsellors only.#

Mental Health Waiver

With the Mental Health Waiver, eligible hospital members with Restricted psychiatric services can upgrade to a cover with Included psychiatric services and choose to have the standard two-month waiting period waived. Members can use the Mental Health Waiver once in their lifetime.

Looking for more?
Learn more about using your cover and exclusive services to support you and your family. View all services.

Further reading

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How to have a conversation about suicide

Talking to someone you love about suicide isn't easy, but it could save their life. Here are some tips from Beyond Blue about how to approach it.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Around 12% of Australians experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime. Understand what causes it and how to deal with it.

Seeking help: the basics                                 

Where to go for help to navigate a mental health issue. 

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Learning to cope with intense feelings

Learn how to step back, have all your emotions, and choose your behaviour.             

Looking for something else?

Visit our Medibank Better Minds homepage to find more tools and services.

Talk to us about your cover and accessing services 

Contact Medibank when and how it suits you: online 24/7, in-store, by phone or through the My Medibank app.

Things you need to know

~ OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

# Check your cover summary to see if these services are included on your extras cover and if annual limits apply.  Counsellors must be registered with Australian Counselling Association, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, Australian Traditional Medicine Society.   

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).