Worrisome Trend: Self-Injury Videos on Internet

Researchers Say Videos May Provoke or Reinforce Harmful Behavior by Young People

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on February 18, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 21, 2011 -- Self-injury videos that show young people intentionally harming their bodies is an alarming new trend that's being fueled by the popular video-sharing web site YouTube, researchers report in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Self-injury, also called self-mutilation or self-harm, is when a person deliberately hurts himself or herself through acts such as cutting, stabbing, or burning. Nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) refers to the deliberate, immediate destruction of body tissue for purposes unrelated to tattooing or piercing and which is not intended to cause death.

NSSI is a worrisome and frequently occurring act that may be a sign of sadness, loneliness, despair, low self-esteem, or the feeling of being unloved. About 14% to 24% of adolescents and young adults have engaged in some type of self-harm.

Millions View Self-Injury Videos

Researchers in Canada examined the 100 most popular self-injury videos on YouTube. These top videos had been viewed over 2 million times, and most did not restrict the viewing audience or warn about the content. Some videos showed a real person performing a self-injurious act, most often cutting the wrists or arms, while others displayed explicit photographs of the injuries. Many of the videos portrayed messages of hopelessness.

The most popular self-injury videos were often ranked as favorable by YouTube viewers.

Adult females in their mid-20s most often uploaded videos of self-injury to YouTube, although the actual average age may be lower since it is possible some lied about their age to create an account.

Videos May Provoke Self-Harm Behavior

The researchers say the availability of self-harm videos may reinforce or provoke such behavior among people with a history of self-injury. It may also lead them to think such behavior is normal. Parents and health care providers who work with those who self-injure should ask about the person's Internet habits.

"Professionals working with youth and young adults ... need to be aware of the scope and nature of nonsuicidal self-injury on YouTube," the study researchers write.

Experts theorize that youths who self-injure themselves may be drawn to such online videos because it helps them identify others who can relate to their feelings. However, more research is needed to better understand how such videos directly affect teens and young adults. It's possible that the videos could one day promote more open discussion about NSSI between young people and their parents or health care team.

Show Sources


News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lewis, S. Pediatrics, 2011; vol 127: pp e552-e557.

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