Self-harm videos on YouTube may reinforce destructive behavior

Self-harm videos posted online are an alarming new trend attracting millions of hits and could encourage the destructive behavior among troubled viewers, researchers report in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Self-harm, also called self-injury or self-mutilation is when a person intentionally hurts himself or herself through acts that include cutting, burning and bruising and it often used as a coping mechanism to provides temporary relief from intense feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, self-loathing or despair.

Researchers analyzed the 100 most popular self-harm videos on YouTube which received over 2 million views, many of which showed people mutilating their bodies and portraying messages of hopelessness. Cutting was revealed to be the most common form of self-harm, followed by embedding objects under the skin and burning.

The average age of the uploaders of the self-harm videos was 25 and 95% were female.  The average age is, however, likely to be younger as many YouTube useres say they are are older in order to access more content.

Lewis, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, said that people looking at these videos may have a history of self-harm.

“In that regard, I would think some of the risks that might be salient in terms of what we found could be things like self-injury possibly being reinforced if, in fact, these videos are repeatedly viewed by certain people,” he said, adding that some videos may also “serve as a trigger for self-harm.”

“It might also in some cases –not all, but some cases — foster e-communities or virtual communities in which self-injury is accepted and in which you’re not necessarily…going to see a message about getting help or trying to seek out professional help for self-injury.”

[adsense]As worrying as the impact of online videos is,  the authors of the study noted that the Internet may also provide solutions to the problems of self-injury.

“The Internet in general, and YouTube in particular, offer novel ways to reach a greater number of youth who may not openly discuss their non-suicidal self-injury with others.”

Two young stars who have resorted to self-mutilation as a coping mechanism are Demi Lovato and Lindsay Lohan.

Images: depressedchild.org and thetankgroup.com