School operations

Self-Harm and Attempted Suicide Response

To report an incident of self-harm or an attempted suicide, contact:

  • the department’s Incident Support and Operations Centre (ISOC) on 1800 126 126
  • Student Support Services (SSS) for assistance with coordination and resources.

Emotional safety

The information contained in this policy and guidance refers to the topics of self-harm and suicide and may elicit an emotional response. It is important to recognise when you become triggered by the content and prioritise your mental health and wellbeing needs first and foremost. For more information, refer to: Self-care for school staff following an incident of self-harm or an attempted suicide (PDF)External Link .


The purpose of this policy is to provide guidance to schools with secondary school students on responding to an incident of self-harmExternal Link or an attempted suicide.


  • For policy and guidance relating to responding to the suicide or suspected suicide of a student, refer to Suicide Response (Postvention).
  • All references to self-harm include suicide attempts.
  • Responding to self-harm, including suicide attempts, in students: a guide to assist secondary schools (PDF)External Link (the Guide) has been developed in partnership with headspace to assist schools with secondary school students with the steps and activities required to respond to and manage an incident of self-harm and to support a student beyond an incident – refer to the Guidance tab.
  • The response required for self-harm incidents involving children under 12 may involve increased complexities not covered in the Guide and primary schools must seek the expert support and guidance from SSS when responding to these incidents, as well as report the incident to the Incident Support Operations Centre (ISOC) for immediate and ongoing support.
  • Schools must report and manage self-harm incidents in accordance with their Emergency Management Plan and the department’s Reporting and Managing Schools Incidents (including emergencies) Policy.
  • Schools will be supported by the Area-based Student Support Staff and, where necessary, the Incident Support Operations Centre.


Self-harm is the umbrella term used to refer to instances where a person deliberately harms their body irrespective of the motive or suicidal intent. A person can engage in self-harm where the intended outcome is death, referred to as a suicide attempt. Self-harm can also occur in the absence of suicidal intent, where the intended outcome is to cope with distress. Intent is what differentiates non-suicidal self-harm from suicide and suicide attempts.

An evidence-informed and timely response to supporting students who have engaged, or continue to engage, in self-harming behaviours in response to psychological distress offers the greatest opportunity to disrupt the cycle of self-harm and reduce potential ongoing mental health and wellbeing difficulties in the future.

Schools have an important responsibility and duty of care to respond to promote positive help-seeking behaviours and support students to develop safe coping strategies.

Responding to self-harm, including suicide attempts, in students: a guide to assist secondary schools

The Guide has been developed by the department in partnership with headspace.

All government secondary schools must follow the Guide when responding to an incident of self-harmExternal Link or an attempted suicide.

In a primary school setting, supporting a student who is self-harming or has attempted suicide will involve additional complexities and the Guide may not address all activities required in these circumstances. Primary schools must seek support from their SSS key contact or another mental health professional and report the incident to ISOC for immediate and ongoing support.

The Guide complements the school’s Emergency Management Plan and existing departmental policies, resources and mental health and wellbeing initiatives. It should be read in conjunction with Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including emergencies).

A number of tools, templates, scripts and factsheets are also available in the Guide, as well as on the Resources tab. This includes a one-page overview: Responding to an incident of self-harmExternal Link .

The Guide is divided into 5 sections.

Section 1

When to use this Guide

Section 2

Self-harm and suicide related terminology

Section 3

Enhancing understanding of mental health, mental ill-health, self-harm and suicide

This section of the Guide provides information about self-harm and the importance of the language used by educators.

Section 4

Responding to, and managing, an incident of self-harm impacting a school

This section of the Guide explains the key steps in responding to a self-harm incident that:

  • is not an emergency
  • requires emergency assistance.

It also provides advice on:

  • communicating with the student’s parents/carers and peers, and the media, if necessary
  • supporting the student beyond an incident with collaborative planning
  • ongoing monitoring of student safety and wellbeing
  • identifying a support person.

Section 5

Early intervention and prevention activities

This section of the Guide provides advice on:

  • having conversations about mental health and wellbeing, including how to ask a student if they are self-harming
  • conditional confidentiality
  • the mental health continuum.

It is recommended that all staff responsible for student health, safety and wellbeing (including classroom teachers) become familiar with the Guide through discussion in a staff meeting, a professional development session or by linking to it in the staff handbook.

To ensure school leaders and members of the Incident Management Team are appropriately prepared, they should familiarise themselves with the information and how to respond to an incident of self-harm.

International students

Where an incident involves an international student, the reporting school must advise ISOC on 1800 126 126 whether the department has accepted responsibility for ensuring appropriate accommodation and welfare arrangements.

For more information, refer to: International Student Program (ISP).

Privacy and duty of care

School staff have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of reasonably foreseeable harm to students in their care. If school staff become aware of student wellbeing or safety risks, including a student who is at risk of self-harm or suicide, this information should be provided to the principal, or other appropriate leadership staff, so that appropriate steps can be taken to support the safety of students. Use of this information in that context is consistent with the Schools’ Privacy Policy and relevant privacy obligations.

Personal and health information must be collected and managed appropriately in accordance with relevant laws and departmental policy. For example, use and/or disclosure of health information should be limited to:

  • where needed to carry out school functions
  • where needed to lesson or prevent a serious threat to a person or the public’s health, safety or welfare
  • where a parent/carer or mature minor consents to the disclosure
  • when sharing information outside the department is required, or authorised by law, such as to:
  • when required by law enforcement.

Relevant legislation

Department policy providing guidance to schools with secondary school students on responding to an incident of self-harm or an attempted suicide

Reviewed 16 January 2024

Policy last updated

14 October 2021


  • Schools


Mental Health Policy and Programs Unit

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