Websites may encourage self-injury in teens, young adults
February 21st, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Websites may encourage self-injury in teens, young adults

Young adults and teens may believe that hurting themselves is normal and acceptable after watching videos and other media on Web-sharing sites like YouTube, new research indicates.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics,  warn professionals and parents to be aware of the availability and dangers of such material for at-risk teens and young adults.

Deliberate self-injury without the intent of committing suicide is called “nonsuicidal self-injury” or NSSI. An estimated 14% to 24% of youth and young adults engage in this destructive behavior, according to the study. NSSI can also include relationship challenges, mental health symptoms, and risk for suicide and death, the study noted. Common forms of self-injury include cutting, burning, picking and embedding objects to cause pain or harm.

While other studies have looked at the availability of online information about self-injury, the authors focused on the scope of self-injury in videos uploaded on YouTube and watched by youth. They described their work as the first such study and noted that their findings could be relevant in risk, prevention and managing self-injury.

The authors focused on YouTube because, according to the site, since its inception in 2005 “YouTube is the world's most popular online video community, allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos.”

Using the site’s search function the researchers looked for the terms “self-harm” and “self-injury,” identifying the site’s top 50 viewed videos containing a live person, and the top 50 viewed videos with words and photos or visual elements. The top 100 items that the study focused on were viewed over 2 million times, according to the analysis, and most – 80% - were available to a general audience.

The analysis of the self-injury content found that 53% was delivered in a factual or educational tone, while 51% was delivered in a melancholic tone. Pictures and videos commonly showed explicit demonstrations of the self-harming behavior.

Cutting was the most common type of behavior; more than half of the videos did not contain warnings about the graphic nature of the behavior. The average age of uploaders of the self-injury material was 25.39 years, according to the findings, and 95% were female. The authors surmise that the actual average age is probably younger because many YouTube users say they are older in order to access more content.

The study concludes that the findings about the volume and nature of self-injury content on YouTube show "an alarming new trend among youth and young adults and a significant issue for researchers and mental health workers."

The videos may be a focus for communities of youth in which self-injury is encouraged and viewed as normal and exciting, which could potentially increase the  risk for self-injury.

The study warns that health professionals need to be aware of this type and source of content, and to inquire about it when working with youth who practice self-injury because sites like YouTube can reach youth who may not openly discuss their  behavior.

Self-harming is not typical behavior for otherwise untroubled teens and young adults, explained Dr. Charles Raison, an Emory University psychiatrist and CNNHealth.com's mental health expert. It’s an action that kids with psychiatric problems may try.

“NSSI is a young person’s affliction…one in ten will kill themselves," he said.   "A lot of people will outgrow the behavior.”

Raison said that it’s common for troubled young people to share information about hurting themselves. Treatments can include antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs and psychotherapy.

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. deepSouth

    I think the Romans started all of this when they said that reading books could be a bad influence on children. It was TV and music in the last century and now it's the internets fault. Apparently, anything that can educate you is dangerous.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Vanessa

    THIS IS SUCH A LIE! I have been self-harming since I was in second grade I started using a broken staple and moved onto razor blades in 7th grade. I didn't do i because my "friends" did it. None of the people in my church going town even heard of it! I was looked down upon as some sort of freak I didn't do it because I looked on youtube! Really? Who goes to youtube for their life conundrums?? I was depressed and one day I was so upset i wanted to stab myself, but I did it on a much smaller scale.You don't understand this isn't the parents letting their kids go on the net, these are sad kids looking for an outlet. Yes maybe some people to it because they think it's a fad but its usually short lived but there are alot of kids doing it because it relieves pain but the media gives it such bad press that people who are really suffering are ignored!!!

    February 21, 2011 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lia2512

      Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you are getting help now. I agree with you that most people who do this do it because they are suffering in some way. Ignore the people who can't understand and seek help for yourself.

      February 21, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse |
    • Justaperson

      I completely agree with you, so many people think it's for attention when really it's not. If someone self harmed for attention, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't hide there scars/cuts/burns/whatever marks they have under there clothes. I really hope that you are getting help now for yourself harm, it's a hard battle to fight, but it is possible to get through. I look at it one day at a time and each day I go without it is another day of fighting the urges. Sure, some people do it for attention, but not a majority and those that do it for attention are also in need as well, there's a problem in there lives, or in themselves, that they're trying to get out and that's the only way they know how to vent, so even the attention seekers deserve compassion and understanding. It's a hard subject for those uneducated and who've never heard of it to understand.

      February 21, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
    • 20 Year Veggie

      I know, right? It's a fad for most of them, because, as a middle aged woman who still struggles with cutting, you always hid it. These kids, they show it to their friends for attention. As a parent, I would still take it seriously, but I hear about all these cutters at the middle school, and it sounds like an emo fad to me. And if they think you outgrow it, no, we just shut up about it. I haven't cut for about a year. Plain and simple–it's too hard to when you've got a husband who'll notice. There's just nowhere to hide the marks.

      March 14, 2011 at 03:55 | Report abuse |
  3. Donalyn

    "The WEB" is responsible? This is like saying "The Earth" is responsible. How about this: "My child/teen/spouse/parent/friend/ is living with depression (or other mental illness) and is vulnerable to the despondent influences of similarly affected people, THEREFORE I must try my best to provide assistance, teach coping skills, pursue treatments, and TALK TALK TALK to my endangered loved one, so he or she will know that the "other" avenues people take are not the only path to help, nor the only way out of pain. Best wishes to all who face this growing crisis –

    February 21, 2011 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. JustAGirl

    Did no one see that at least one of those videos starts out with a warning that some images may trigger? Someone new to self harm may not understand that but anyone trying to stop knows not to watch it. And have they noticed all the support sites out there? I can name three just off the top of my head (in case you couldn't tell I am an 'adult self injurer' -trying to stop-, in my mid twenties). Parents definitely need to be aware that these things are out there (just google 'self injury', 'self harm' or 'cutting' and some of the images you come up with... *shudder*) but not everything on the internet re:self injury (more commonly referred to in 'those circles' as SI or SH) is bad.

    February 21, 2011 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. BIanca Campos

    i think this does have an impact on kids these days. i am only 13 and i do cut myself and have thought of suicide....but the internet isn't to blame. i blame my problems at home but like i said, media does have a bigger impact on us and they should flag those videos and make sure only people over a certain age can view them

    February 21, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Donalyn

    Also – teenagers who "cut" have a very complex, difficult problem which absolutely requires people (ESPECIALLY parents) to thoroughly understand and be very committed, hypervigilant, and above all, loving. Even then, it can take many years of struggle, and too many teens do not get the help they need. Vanessa – your insight is very valuable – please use every opportunity to openly discuss your personal experience with others. I promise you it really makes a difference, and you are a courageous young woman to express yourself here –

    February 21, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. JustAGirl

    Mmm, and just an FYI, all of you who come on and condemn people who engage in such destructive behaviors especially saying how awful/stupid/weak minded these kids are... it's people like you who keep people who hurt themselves from telling someone so that they can get help... and such words can often make things worse... of course, from what I've read from some of you you probably don't care...

    February 21, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      Exactly.......unbelievable isn't it?

      February 21, 2011 at 21:41 | Report abuse |
  8. sumdumguy

    It all started with a paper cut.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 20 Year Veggie

      We must ban paper!

      March 14, 2011 at 03:57 | Report abuse |
  9. MrsFizzy

    I think this is more a by-product of NSSI / self-harming than a cause... if someone is really in the mindset to do this to themselves they would be doing it even if they thought they were the only person in the world doing it. Are they more likely to do it because they can see other kids who are into it & identify with them?? Not sure. This is an "underground" thing that someone does as an outlet to their unhappiness anyway, so making it even more of a stigma is not going to help them.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sherry Daida

    Why is nothing I post showing up?

    February 21, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. patricia

    Brad you are wrong! My church does alot for people...spiritually and with food and emotionally.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Cynic

    Geez! And I used to think I was strange as a teenager! After reading some of this stuff, I guess I was really pretty boring.

    February 21, 2011 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. tyler logan

    teens have been themselves for years and now all of a sudden people start worrying because there are a bunch of videos on the web. please thats like the "disorder" bipolar which is referred to as a sudden change in mood. to be honest if you think about it everyone has bipolar not just certain ones.

    February 21, 2011 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. unknown

    I'm going to have to agree and not agree with this, some say teen years are the "toughest" while growing up. And out of all honesty it's usually the teen that does self harm, the video/website don't influence what so ever, they just happen to believe in what ever it is they WANT to believe in, it's all in the teens mentality / Psyche, most of them aren't at there maturity levels yet. So wouldn't be better to ask the teen why?

    February 21, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Truth

    If you are stupid enough to disfigure yourself because of something you saw on TV, just join with the smokers and their ilk who self destruct and raise the general IQ by improving the gene pool.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Matt

    Note to any kids dumb enough to let Youtube tell them to cut themselves: it's DOWN THE ROAD, not ACROSS THE STREET. Seriously, die already sheeple.

    February 21, 2011 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Natas

      Agreed. The gene pool is self cleaning. Why must people constantly interfere?

      February 21, 2011 at 19:02 | Report abuse |
  17. T3chsupport

    Been there, done that. No one who hasn't been there (aside from some professionals) will EVER be able to understand what that is like. They will never understand the difference between 'this sounds like a good idea' and 'I HAVE to do this'.

    I was lucky enough to be able to dig myself out of that hole, but the urge still comes up from time to time when I've been too stressed out.

    If you can't find a distraction, and you need the pain, get some really snappy rubber bands, put them around your wrist, and snap that thing as hard as you can! If you're already really into deep cutting, it might not work for you, but if it can it certainly beats big scars, anorexia/bulimia, and/or pulling your hair out.

    Remember that you're not alone, but DO NOT seek that kind of company. It will make it worse.

    February 21, 2011 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • C

      Dear Sweet T3chsupport. God bless you.!!

      February 21, 2011 at 21:22 | Report abuse |
    • 20 Year Veggie

      I need to remember that rubber band thing. I think it could help.

      March 14, 2011 at 04:01 | Report abuse |
  18. Justina

    Kids in rich countries are bored. They should be brought to poor countries. Let them experience real thirst, hunger and heat.

    February 22, 2011 at 02:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Anonymous

    "The analysis of the self-injury content found that 53% was delivered in a factual or educational tone, while 51% was delivered in a melancholic tone."

    Well, that definitely accounts for 104% of the population...

    February 25, 2011 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Shut Up

    The Internet Is Only Partially A Cause.Friends Are A Reason To Some Kids Get Teased And Beat Up And They Do That To Releave There Stress. I Should Know I See Kids In School Doin That Mess. Yes Internet Is Apart Of It , Its Also Parents Who Dont Talk To Kids And Ignore Them When They Need Them Most. Blame Yourselves To 🙂

    March 3, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 3, 2013 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. teen

    Both those videos in the pic are there to get people to stop not start and if you ever search selfharm you get a bunch of help lines. That first video in the pic got me to stop cuting so ya...

    December 9, 2013 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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