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Saturday, 15 Jun 2019

How and Why Does Social Media Contribute to Self-Harm?

By Dr Becky Spelman
Self harm

Self-harm has been present in society for several generations, now. But with the rise of graphic content being shared on platforms such as Instagram, just how much is it contributing to the problem? To understand, we need to look at why people use social media in the way they do in relation to self-harm. The first and most pressing question is, ‘what is the entry point?’ How does someone become part of such a subculture? Part of the answer lies in these questions creating misconceptions merely by the fact of being asked.

The person who is self-harming is often doing so long before they take to the Internet to seek out other material. It isn’t something that is of casual interest to people who then become drawn in by the lure of the experience. So how does it begin? The act of self-injury is a way to regain control of one’s life through the creation and management of pain. It is a substitute for the inability to express emotion, either through a lack of capacity or the absence of a support network.

If the behaviour is engaged in over a long enough period, it is only then the attention might turn to seeking out like-minded people – the Internet and social media, in particular, being the biggest facilitatorin recent years. This creates the concept of a quasi or ‘surrogate support network.’ Those people who’re already posting images of themselves as a cry for help draw the attention of these new visitors. They create a bond through their mutual empathy, which at the same time also normalises the behaviour. The person seeking out the material may then feel encouraged enough to harm themselves further to find acceptance and/or show solidarity within this group. It enables; serves a catalyst, but it’s not necessarily the cause.

However, much of the blame continues to be placed at the feet of social media companies.calling into question whether they have a duty of care to protect vulnerable users from such graphic content. As always with such sensitive issues, it’s a polarising subject. Not all self-harm related content posted online seeks to glorify or enable. There are a great many people out there trying to bring awareness to the issue by sharingtheir past experiences and subsequent regrets. Images are powerful communicators for those kinds of messages.

Despite this, as of February 2019, Instagram has now officially blacklisted all hashtags relating to self-harm, including the more positive monikers like #selfharmsupport. It is Instagram effectively removing the possibility of further negative publicity. This doesn’t solve the issue, but simply creates another. By heightening the taboo surrounding the subject, it pushes those affected further away from receiving the support they need. It promotes isolation. The kneejerk reaction of tarring everyone with the same brush ultimately does more to stigmatise the issue further than it does protect their image.

The real problem isn’t that self-harm is being talked about on these platforms. It’s the fact that social media has provided us with a glimpse into that world, forcing us into a long overdue conversation about the state of mental health in young adults. It is the hole in the wall exposing an uncomfortable reality. But in doing so, raises the question of what could be so wrong on a societal level that’s causing increased instances of self-harm. Social media, however, continues to be a convenient scapegoat.

This shortsightedness prevents us from tackling the real issue at hand. It is environmental factors that have the most influence on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Extreme action is taken only in desperate situations – when people are forced. On the social level, bullying, discrimination, austerity and the lack of oppurtunity could be all legitimate causes. The former two reflecting particularly bad on any current government in power.So rather than taking the easy way out with cheap sensationalism, perhaps it’s time we were asking what really causes the mindset instead of self-harm instead of blaming an imagined boogeyman.

*** If you’re struggling with issues surrounding self-harm and feel like you are in need of guidance to move forward, one of specialists would be happy to provide you with a FREE 15 MINUTE CONSULTATION.

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