In early 2012, the microblogging site, Tumblr announced it would ban all pro-anorexia and pro-self-harming blogs. As a multimedia site these blogs consist of images, writing, and videos on the subject of serious health disorders. With an estimated 12 million UK users many have argued that the content is not promoting self-harm, but rather serves as a diary of sorts to post their feelings.
Organizations however state the sometimes dark and disturbing content can prompt vulnerable individuals to self-harm further rather than helping someone who self-harms. ChildLine, for example, claimed calls rose to 68% from 2010/2011 and believe such harmful sites are to blame stating, ‘The sites prey on children’s insecurities and have no place on the Internet’. This begs the question; with the Internet and media predominantly being our primary sources of information and therefore access to information on self-harm, how much of this is harmful to young people?
A case in June 2012 involved 15-year-old Rosie Whitaker who took her life. This was reportedly after the teenager was “heavily influenced” by pro-suicide websites during the stress of her GCSEs and problems with peer pressure. Such websites where teenagers, children and even adults can join, are reported to contain suicide and self-harming encouragement rather than self-harm help.
23-year-old Heather Williams, someone who self-harmed, claimed images and forums on self-harm were ‘triggering’ her to hurt herself due to their content. This ‘trigger’ can be experienced after viewing any sort of media platform on self-harm which will prompt the individual to injure themselves. Williams claimed sites should take responsibility to ensure their content does not distress viewers and ‘escalate’ their problems.
One can also argue the media can contribute to these triggers. Paris Jackson, for example, who after self-harming, reportedly posted pictures of her self-injuries online before her hospital admittance. If this is the case, some argue this cannot help fans or other people who self-harm, but rather serves as a trigger for further self-injury, especially, since many young people may look up to celebrities and perhaps worryingly, copy their behavior. In the mid-1990s for instance, self-harm was reported as a ‘fad’ of sorts, with musicians such as Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, “cutting themselves on stage and talking about it”. It is worrisome that young people may imitate peers or celebrities seeing self-injury as cool or normalized.
Additionally, a study was conducted in 2004 where participants claimed they were introduced to the concept of self-harm through outlets such as magazine articles, books, and message boards. What is more, language in the media may glamorize or present significant coverage which can lead to imitation by the public.
The above are examples of self-harming cases that could encourage young people to self-harm. On the other hand, some reported cases can provide self-harm awareness to assist young people to seek self-harm help. For instance, reports on celebrity Demi Lovato revealed how she was managing her self-harming behavior. Additionally, a key leading and successful football figure, Clarke Carlisle, in a recent BBC program, revealed his challenges with his past depression in an environment where there are so many expectations from his team, fans and the media to perform and deliver; and how he was actively looking at ways to assist other footballers manage their depression and mental health challenges. Essentially, he lifted the lid on what was considered to be an ugly subject that no one wanted to talk about for a variety of reasons.
In conclusion, if we need to find a way to report self-harm awareness through multimedia platforms without causing harm to individuals, self-harm is a gray area and coverage in any form must be done responsibly and sensitively, rather than plaster the issue of self-harm everywhere with no real objective other than to tell people it is happening.
The focus needs to be on support rather than sensationalism. Helplines, advice, treatment options and information on self-harm would more likely be helpful to a young person. There is need of balance where self-harm is reported, but followed with support which is available to young people. In so doing, we can assist in helping someone who self-harms much more than a graphic image online can.