Young people who see images of cutting on Instagram are more likely to hurt themselves by imitating the act, and also are at higher risk for suicide, a new study suggests.
The research, led by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, the University of Vienna, and the University of Leuven in Belgium, was published recently in the journal New Media & Society. Here are the highlights:
It's difficult to track how many youth harm themselves, but several studies suggest it's more common than people think. Researchers say about 18% of teenagers intentionally harm themselves, and cutting is the most common form of self-injury.
Although those people are not necessarily suicidal in that moment, self-injury is one of the most powerful predictors of future suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 34.
The issue of cutting has gotten particular attention on Instagram, where images of mild to moderate cutting injuries can be seen frequently. Researchers have found some images also show bleeding flesh wounds, and those images get more comments.
Many people have raised concerns that such images will inspire copycats. Decades of research on suicide has shown that certain types of news coverage can lead to an increase in suicides. But little research has been done to see if the same effect exists for self-harm, especially on social media outlets.
As the conversation around social media's effect on mental health continues, this is an area of increasing interest.
The study is based on 729 Americans, ages 18 to 29, who were recruited from internet gaming sites. Over 80% were women.