YouTube is a favorite form of entertainment for many young people. Unfortunately, it’s now being used to document and extol a disturbing form of self-destructive behavior.
A recent study reported on in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revealed that many teens and young adults are uploading videos that depict self-cutting and other forms of self-injury. The videos contain graphic images and are often accompanied by music. They are easily accessible through YouTube’s search engine and usually contain no warning about scenes of self-mutilation.
It is estimated that up to 20% of young men and women engage in self-injury at least once in their lifetime. Cutting oneself with a razor blade or knife is the most common form of self-injury, but the behavior may also include biting, head banging, hitting, burning and embedding objects under the skin. The injuries are most often inflicted on arms, wrists and legs. According to the Mayo Clinic, self-injury is usually not a suicide attempt but is instead a reaction to frustration, anger and emotional pain. People who injure themselves often say that experiencing self-inflicted physical pain temporarily frees them from mental anguish. In most cases, young people hide their cuts and scars beneath clothing and parents are unaware that their child is performing acts of self-injury.
Cutting and self-injury are often done on impulse, indicating that impulse control may be an issue. Other disorders such as depression or eating disorders are also linked to self-injury. Many young people injure themselves one or more times and then stop, but others become trapped in a pattern of repetitive self-injurious behavior. Those who have a problem with self-injury should seek help since it is a sign of bigger underlying issues. This behavior poses a risk of serious injury, permanent disfigurement and accidental death. Like other addictive behaviors, it may be difficult to stop without professional help.
ABC News recently broadcast a report that profiled Becky Bosch, a 17-year-old who began cutting herself during her freshman year in high school. She used self-injury to cope with the symptoms of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Over a period of two years she cut her arms almost daily. According to Becky, social networking sites like YouTube fueled her self-destructive behavior and she was only able to stop cutting after seeking help. She is now receiving treatment for her underlying bipolar disorder and is speaking out against videos that depict self-injury.
The YouTube research project found that while most of the videos studied do not encourage self-injury, they may reinforce and spread this destructive behavior. Regular viewing of these videos can desensitize young people to the dangers of self-injury. In response to media attention, YouTube issued a statement saying it has policies against content that includes self-injury and is counting on its user community to flag these videos for deletion.
If you know of someone who is harming themselves, please contact a professional to get help. You can call our treatment centers in California for a referral to such a counselor.