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Intentional Self-harm

Sometimes it can feel like life is too hard and difficulties can seem overpowering. No matter what your concerns are, it is important to let someone know so they can support you. To speak to a trained mental health professional for immediate support contact:

If you, or someone else, is at immediate risk of harm do not hesitate to contact emergency services on 000.

While data included on this page assists in highlighting the incidence of intentional self-harm in WA, Injury Matters recognises that behind every number are stories of Western Australians and the broader community who have been impacted by intentional self-harm.

Definition of intentional self-harm

Intentional self-harm means any behaviour which involves the deliberate causing of pain or injury to oneself, usually as an extreme way of trying to cope with distressing or painful feelings.1

Impact of intentional self-harm on Western Australia

Who does it impact?

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2

  • 21,628 hospitalisations due to intentional self-harm.
  • 65.8% of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm were females.
  • people aged 25 – 44 had the highest incidence of intentional self-harm.

In Western Australia Aboriginal peoples make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015, 11.17% of intentional self-harm hospitalisations were Aboriginal people.2,3

Where does it occur?

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019, the three regions with the greatest difference in hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (153% higher), Great Southern (43% higher) and Wheatbelt (25% higher).2

Impact on health system

In Western Australia in 2019, there were 4,063 hospitalisations for intentional self-harm, consuming an estimated 22,049 bed days at an approximate cost of $31,266,550.2

Determinants of Intentional Self-harm

Good mental health

Increased self-esteem and positive mental health has been associated with protective factors such as positive personal relationships, personal belief system and coping strategies.1

Having social support, whether it’s through a community, friends or family, can play a critical role in intentional self-harm prevention. They can provide social support to vulnerable individuals, ensure that follow-up care is received when required and collectively fight any stigma.4

Stressful life events

The association of stressful life events with intentional self-harm such as interpersonal losses, legal or disciplinary issues is supported by numerous research findings.4 Despite this strong association it is important to remember that stressful life events are common and therefore the stressful life events may only increase the thought of intentional self-harm among individuals who are already vulnerable.4

Cultural dislocation, social exclusion, and racism

The increased risk of mental health problems, substance abuse and intentional self-harm among Aboriginal people are acknowledged to be associated with cultural dislocation, personal trauma and the ongoing stresses of disadvantage, racism, alienation and exclusion.5

Past history of intentional self-harm

A previous suicide attempt is the strongest indicator of suicide risk. Regardless of the time that has passed after a person attempts suicide, they may remain at high risk of intentional self-harm.6

Effective Interventions

National and State Strategies

There are a number of individuals and organisations who have a role to play in the prevention of intentional self-harm and therefore the development of a collective strategy can assist is outlining responsibilities towards a collective goal.

Western Australia example: The Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021 – 2025 aligns to several Commonwealth and State strategies and outlines the future direction to reduce deaths by suicide in WA.7

Awareness-raising and capacity building

Settings and organisations that people are involved in at different life stages provide an opportunity to identify at-risk individuals and deliver tailored mental health education.7

Western Australian example: Headspace provide early intervention mental health services to Western Australians aged 12 to 25 years old, assisting young people with mental health, physical health, work and study support. Via the headspace Schools program, youth-specific mental health education tools and training is available for school staff and parents.

Professional Training

Upskilling members of the community to recognise and support vulnerable people is an important grassroots initiative to reducing the incidence of intentional self-harm. Some members of the community such as teachers, police and coaches are in regular direct contact with young people who may be vulnerable and therefore if upskilled they are able to respond effectively to those in need.8  

Western Australian example: The WA Mental Health Commission frequently deliver trainings on Mental Health First Aid, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Training to upskill individuals and organisations.

Restricting access to the means of self-harm

Legislation regulating access to means of intentional self-harm (i.e. prescription pharmaceuticals, sharp objects and firearms) has been an effective intentional self-harm prevention method.9    

Western Australian example: Firearm ownership is restricted in WA under state legislation. The National Firearms Agreement stipulates the minimum requirements for the regulation of firearms in Australia.10

Crisis centres and hotlines

Recognising that intentional self-harm is often associated with poor mental health and a critical stress event, crisis centres and hotlines aim to convince the caller that there are ways of solving the problem other than intentional self-harm.

Western Australian example: Lifeline, Suicide Call Back Service, Mensline, Veterans Line and Kids Helpline are all hotlines that support individuals who are experiencing mental illness to take steps to keep themselves safe.

Organisations and programs in Western Australia

Injury Matters intentional self-harm resources

Other Resources

AIHW, National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System

AIHW, Suicide and intentional self-harm in Australia: trends and analysis

ATSISPEP, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project Report

Black Dog Institute, What can be done to decrease suicidal behaviour in Australia? 

Life in Mind, Communities Matter – Suicide prevention for small towns and local communities

Mindframe, ABS Suicide Data Summary 2020

Mindframe, Communicating about suicide

WA Mental Health Commission, Western Australian Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015-2025

WA Mental Health Commission, Suicide Prevention 2020: together we can save lives

WA Mental Health Commission, WA Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-2025

WHO, Towards evidence-based suicide prevention programmes


  1. SANE Australia. Self-harm. (2018).
  2. Data generated from the WA Hospital Morbidity Data System (2019), ABS Mortality Data (2018) and WA Emergency Department Data Collection (2019), by the Epidemiology Branch, Department of Health WA in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI). Extracted March 2021.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Western Australia, People (2017).
  4. World Health Organization. Preventing suicide: A global imperative. (2014).
  5. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy. (2013).
  6. Mental Health Commission of WA and onelife. Suicide Prevention 2020 together we can save lives. (2015).
  7. Government of Western Australia, Mental Health Commission. Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-2025. (2020).
  8. Government of Western Australia, Mental Health Commission. Suicide Prevention Training. Mental Health Commission (2020).
  9. Hurka, S. & Knill, C. Does regulation matter? A cross-national analysis of the impact of gun policies on homicide and suicide rates. Regulation & Governance 14, 787–803 (2020).
  10. Council of Australian Governments. National Firearms Agreement. (2017).

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