YouTube videos promote self-harm

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A Canadian psychologist is warning of an alarming trend for troubled teens to post self-harm videos on YouTube.

The phenomenon parallels that of so-called 'thinspiration' websites  which actively encourage eating disorders such as anorexia.

Professor Stephen Lewis of the University of Guelph says that the top 100 self-harm videos - and yes, there are many more than that - have been viewed a million times. Cutting is the most widely-shown behavior, he says.

"Many youth who self-injure may go online to find support, but at the same time they may see videos that could be harmful if self-injury is depicted as typical behaviour or if viewing these videos triggers the behaviour," he says.

"These videos are worrisome because the nature of the images and tone may elicit an urge in those already at risk of self-injury to harm themselves, and may send the message that self-injury is acceptable or that there is little point in seeking help."

Although some of the self-harm videos viewed had warnings that they may trigger self-injury, most did not. Between 14 to 24 per cent of youth and young adults have self-injured at least once, and Lewis is convinced that self-injury videos may lead vulnerable teens to harm themselves - and view this behavior as acceptable.

"We have to educate mental health workers and medical professionals working with youth who self-injure about this phenomenon of video sharing among teens," says Lewis.

"Right now they might not think to ask youth about their internet activity, but it's information that could be important to integrate into a person's assessment and treatment plan."