Self-harmful behaviors such as cutting and burning are typically very private. People who engage in these behaviors tend to do so when they know nobody can see them and are savvy when it comes to covering the marks.
But a disturbing new trend is taking self-harmful behaviors and making them public. Hundreds of YouTube videos are now online that depict people injuring themselves by cutting, biting, burning, picking at their skin, and embedding objects under their skin. These explicit videos and photographs, which often don’t come with warnings about their subject matter, show people inflicting self-harm on all parts of their bodies.
A study in the journal Pediatrics found that these videos are regularly viewed – the top 100 videos analyzed were viewed more than 2 million times — and receive positive comments from viewers. While many of the videos are factual or educational, they tend to incorporate music and graphics in a way that may glamorize self-harmful behaviors.
“The risk is that these videos normalize self-injury, and foster a virtual community for some people in which self-injury is accepted, and the message of getting help is not necessarily conveyed,” said Stephen P. Lewis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario and the paper’s lead author, in a New York Times article.
“There’s another risk, which is the phenomenon of ‘triggering,’ when someone who has a history of self-injury then watches a video or sees a picture, his or her urge to self-injure might actually increase in the moment,” he said.
This trend is more alarming given that Internet use and YouTube viewing are regular activities among the population most likely to engage in self-harmful behaviors – teens and young adults.
The study also found that only one in four of the most-viewed YouTube videos spoke out against self-harm, and about the same number encouragingly suggested that the behaviors could be overcome.
The study’s researchers suggested that professionals who work with populations that engage in self-harmful behaviors become aware of these videos and address them as needed.
Treatment for Self-harm
If you or someone you love is engaging in self-harmful behaviors, it is important to know how dangerous they can be – no matter how “normal” it may look on sites like YouTube. Depending on how you are mutilating your body, you can cause permanent damage and scarring, and put yourself at risk of something more serious if activities like burning are involved.
It is possible to get treatment so that you stop engaging in these behaviors and learn healthier ways to cope with and express your emotions. Because self-injury is often symptomatic of another disorder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, or an eating disorder, effective treatment for self-harm will also address these psychiatric disorders for a more complete recovery.
If you do have a history of self-injury but have been able to get your behaviors under control, it is wise to stay away from videos like those on YouTube, which may trigger your old behaviors.