Viewing self-harm images on the internet and in social media usually causes harm, according to new review.
Researchers from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry have reviewed international research evidence regarding the impact of viewing images of self-harm on the internet and in social media.
The evidence, reviewed indicates that viewing such images usually causes harm, though the findings also highlighted the complexity of the issue.
In all,15 research studies were reviewed and the findings have been published in a paper, in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, there was evidence that looking at images of self-harm had harmful effects. However, nine of the studies also indicated some ‘protective’ effects for some young people, including reduction in urges to self-harm for some, social connection with other people, and providing and receiving support.
The study follows recent cases where viewing images related to self-harm and suicide has been associated with deaths by suicide of young people, leading to calls for legislation such as through the UK’s Online Safety Bill, currently going through Parliament. But until now, there has been little research evidence in this area.
Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trusts Dr Karima Susi, Clinical Psychologist, who led the review while undertaking her clinical doctorate at the Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training and Research, said:
“Images can trigger powerful emotions which increase the likelihood of individuals engaging in self-harm-related behaviours. Viewing images also provide a means whereby individuals can connect with one another and get support, which might not be available offline. Our findings highlight the need to address the factors that may contribute to individuals seeking support online, despite the potential for harm. The findings could be used to inform further research and widen awareness about the potentially harmful and protective effects of viewing self-harm images online.”
The team are currently conducting further research related to this issue, including an interview study of self-harm mental images in young people with a recent history of self-harm. The results of this will be available in the near future.
The full paper, ‘Viewing self-harm images on the internet and social media platforms: systematic review of the impact and associated psychological mechanisms’, can be read in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
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Published: 22 March 2023