Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation

Amid the psychological issues potentially occurring in young people, self-harm is a primary concern, with harmful behaviors lying on a continuum between non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicidal intention (40). Social media can influence self-injury tendencies negatively, through fostering conducts, contagion, or competitions (94), but they can also represent the first foothold when support is needed. A study based on the analysis of MySpace profiles indicates that teenagers utilize personal virtual space to share their suicidal ideation and behaviors directly or by reporting desperation, hopelessness, and despair (95). From the interviews with adolescents recently collected by Jacob and colleagues about self-harm behaviors, it emerges that Tumblr is the preferred platform to share self-injuring content, like pictures, in an anonymous way, with the consequent risk to normalize such harmful behaviors (40). Looking into the motives that push young people to share self-injury related content such as their own wounds on Instagram, there are mostly social purposes, like the need to belong to a group where the person can feel understood (62). Another reason might be the need to self-disclose in an environment that can guarantee anonymity. These reasons are reported to be valid both for the first NSSI post and for the general NSSI ones. Beyond self-oriented motives, another aim is to raise awareness about the topic in order to help other people (62). Although results concerning Instagram do not report any risk for acute suicidality (96), photos of self- injury practices might play a reinforcement role as they are often posted (45) and frequently concealed behind ambiguous hashtags (97). In fact, as users often resort to the use of hashtags to track the shared contents and to find images or discussions related to specific topics, those regarding self-harming behaviors can contain non-related words (i.e., “blithe” for self-cutting pictures) or be constantly changed, in order to make them easily accessible only to a restricted community (98). Social media- related suicidal behavior is a topic of increasing interest and critical importance that has garnered the attention of newspapers and newscasts all over the world, concerning popular and unpopular people (see Channel News Asia for a recent episode). Although researchers attempted to study the extent of social media on suicidal behaviors in-depth, complexities derive from legal and privacy issues, as well as from the indirect association between the usage on web-based platforms and the suicide itself (99).

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