Self-harm and suicide related terminology
Refers to people deliberately hurting their bodies with the intended outcome being to cope with the experience of distress (headspace: What you need to know about ). Intent is the defining factor differentiating a suicide attempt from self-harm (Hawton et al. 2012).
Common types of self-harm among young people include cutting (skin on the arms, thighs or wrists), burning the skin, picking at wounds or scars, self-hitting or deliberately overdosing on medication, drugs or other substances causing harm.
For some young people, engaging in self-harm will be a once-off and for others it will become a pattern of behaviour. Self-harm is a coping strategy in response to intense emotional pain or being overwhelmed by negative thoughts, feelings or memories. While self-harm and suicide do overlap, not everyone who engages in self-harming behaviours is suicidal.
Refers to thoughts about how to kill oneself, also referred to as suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts range in intensity and frequency from fleeting to more concrete, well thought out plans for killing oneself, or complete preoccupation with self-destruction. These thoughts are not uncommon among young people (headspace, Self-harm factsheet).
Refers to the act of intentionally causing one’s own death (WHO 2020). Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2018 identifies suicide as the leading cause of death for children and young people aged between 5 and 17 years, with many more young people considering or attempting suicide (ABS 2018).
Refers to an act carried out by an individual with the intention to end their life. A suicide attempt is an act of self-harm with the intended outcome being death. Intent is the defining factor differentiating a suicide attempt from self-harm where intent is to cope with the experience of distress (Hawton et al. 2012).
Refers to acts such as suicide and attempted suicide. This also includes suicide-related communications, both verbal and non-verbal, and expressing suicidal intent (Baldwin et al. 2017).
‘Vicarious trauma’, often used interchangeably with ‘secondary trauma’ refers to loss of a positive sense of self and the world as a consequence of working with traumatised others (McCann and Pearlman 1990).
Reviewed 14 October 2021