YouTube Provides Potential Danger and Hope for Teens Struggling with Self-Injury

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You can find anything on the Internet if you know where to look and self-injury or self-harm is no exception.  According to a new study, YouTube, the popular online video-sharing site, is home to hundreds of videos about self-harm, videos that include graphic images of self-cutting.  Researchers are worried the videos, which are not age restricted in most cases, may inspire copycats.

"The Internet in general, and YouTube, in particular, offers novel ways to reach a greater number of youth who may otherwise not openly discuss their non-suicidal self-injury with others," the researchers wrote.

The study, “The Scope of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury on YouTube,” published in Pediatrics, focused on the 100 most watched self-harm videos on YouTube, but the researchers identified more than 5,000.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders says that intentional injury is often associated with “negative feelings or thoughts, such as depression, anxiety, tension, anger, generalized distress, or self-criticism.”  The researchers found that females uploaded 95 percent of the self-harm videos posted on YouTube.

According to MedPageToday, the study’s authors also have unpublished research that shows that images of self-injury may prompt those who practice self-harm to injure themselves.

JJIE.org performed its own informal survey of self-harm videos on YouTube. Using the search terms “self-harm” and “self-injury,” we found many videos with warnings that the videos may cause “triggering.”  Some examples:

  • Warning: contains images that may be triggering. Do not watch if easily triggered.
  • WARNING: Trigger alert.  Might be triggering.
  • This may be triggering.  If you are triggered by self-harm images, watch with caution.

A further search by JJIE.org of YouTube for the phrase “May be triggering” returned more than 1,500 results.  The first page was filled with videos about self-harm.  However, many of those videos were made to help those struggling with the desire to self-harm. In fact, according to the study published in Pediatrics, 26 percent of the videos cataloged discouraged self-injury.

One prominent video was produced by a non-profit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).  TWLOHA is “dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.” TWLOHA focuses on college campuses and often have information booths at concerts like the Vans Warped Tour.

Representatives from TWLOHA will be at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga., on March 3.

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