Social Media and Self-Harming amongst Young People

Published: 20 October 2017

Country: UK

apple-1853337_960_720Social media has become a staple in the life of young people. In many ways, we do not know the effects this can have on a child’s life, with this development still being quite new. However, some new data has come to light which highlights the negative influence social media can have, particularly on teenage girls. A new study has been released by the British Medical Journal, with cooperation from University of Manchester researchers, focusing on self-harm amongst adolescents. Alarmingly, the study found that reports of self-harm in young girls (ages 13 to 16) have risen by 68% between 2011 and 2014. This is a sharp increase and is worrisome to say the least.Social media acts as a double edged sword when it comes to mental health. On one hand, the internet can provide many avenues for young people to talk about mental health. Take services such as Young Minds, a website that provides support to young people struggling with mental health issues. Besides from having a blog, Young Minds gives advice and helps people identify how they are feeling. Similarly, NHS offers online mental health services to help people with issues such as anxiety and depression. These are just two examples amongst many which young people can explore online to help with mental health. Unfortunately, there are also many negative aspects that come with the internet and social media. One of the authors of the British Medical Journal study, Nav Kapur, says: “The internet and social media can be really helpful in preventing self-harm but could have negative effects too and this is a focus of significant research and activity.” With social media comes judgement and an increased chance of bullying, in the form of cyberbullying. This has to be kept in mind when discussing the mental health of young people today.

The British Medical Journal study follows a series of studies on young people and self-harming/suicide in the UK. Research conducted in 2014 by ChildLine, one of the UK’s leading counselling services for children, found that in 36% of their counselling sessions, suicide was mentioned, which was a 192% increase from 2010/2011. They also found that there has been a 116% increase in suicide-related counselling sessions over the previous three years, and that in over a third of such counselling sessions, self-harming was mentioned.

Another noteworthy result the British Medical Journal study found was that significantly more young girls self-harm in comparison to boys. Specifically, 37.4 per 10,000 girls self-harmed one or more times between 2001 and 2014, whereas for boys the rate was 12.3 per 10,000. Of course, the amount of boys self-harming is still significant and alarming, but one has to question why there are so many more girls than boys self-harming. There has been a lot of research done in the past in terms of the internet and its effect on girls, specifically when it comes to body image and self-worth. Most of such studies conclude that factors such as airbrushing and the constant use of skinny models have very negative effect on young girls, which could in turn develop into mental health issues.

All this raises the question of how the internet is used by today’s young generation, and whether it is doing more harm than good. Young girls are a vulnerable societal group, and they seem to be suffering a lot in regards to the internet and social media. Yet, there are also many positive resources for them online, such as the mental health services mentioned in this article and also access to inspiring content. While some might see abandoning the internet as a solution for the increase in self-harm and suicide amongst young girls and boys, this is not a possible solution; the internet is not going anywhere. Instead, we must find ways in which the internet and social media can be used safely by our young people.

You can view the full British Medical Journal study here.

You can view the full ChildLine study here.