YouTube Videos Show Graphic Self-Mutilation

CHICAGO (AP) — YouTube videos on cutting and other self-injury methods are an alarming new trend, attract millions of hits and could serve as a how-to for troubled viewers, a study warns.

Many videos show bloody live enactments or graphic photos of people cutting their arms or legs with razors or other sharp objects, the study found. Many also glamorize self-injury and few videos discourage it, the study authors said.

They also feature haunting music and rich imagery that may attract young self-injurers and trigger the behavior, especially in those who have just started to self-injure, the authors suggest.

Canadian psychologist Stephen Lewis, a study co-author, said he found more than 5,000 YouTube videos on self-injury. The study focused on 100 videos the authors found in December 2009. Their analysis was published online Monday in Pediatrics.

The 100 videos were viewed more than 2 million times and generated many online comments.

Parents and mental health professionals should be aware of the YouTube postings and that the videos might be perpetuating the problem, said Lewis, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

The study’s authors also recommended that YouTube provide helpful resources or links when people enter search terms for “self-injury.” A company spokeswoman said YouTube is looking into the feasibility of the suggestion.

She said the site has policies against graphic content and content that encourages dangerous activities. It relies on viewers to flag questionable videos, and a YouTube team reviews and removes those in violation of those policies. Self-injury videos are among those that have been removed.

Self-injury is most common among young people. Between 14 percent and 24 percent of teens and young adults have engaged in self-injury at least once, Lewis said. Cutting is among the most common methods.

Psychologist Tracy Knight, an associate professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., is interviewed in a documentary-style YouTube video about cutting that has been viewed more than 14,000 times and generated more than 80 comments.

Knight said the video was done by a student and he didn’t know it was on YouTube. The video’s opening scenes include a young woman poking a sharp tool into her leg.

Knight said such videos may inadvertently trigger self-harm, but that YouTube also can serve a benefit by taking self-injury out of the closet and into the public realm.

“It makes it open for social discussion . . . in a way that was not possible when it was secret,” he said.

Lewis said therapists who treat self-injurers should consider asking their patients if they watch these videos and counsel them about possible effects. Parents, too, should be aware that kids may be watching the videos and discuss the issue with them, he said.

Self-injurers typically are struggling with feelings of anger, sadness, depression or other emotional troubles, and usually don’t cut deep enough to cause major harm, said Barent Walsh, a therapist and author of a book on self-injury treatment.

Self-injuring “is oddly effective in reducing emotional distress” in people who have poor coping skills, Walsh said.

He said it’s well-known that photos and websites about self-injury can trigger the behavior in people who already self-injure or who are tempted to do it. But he said the study results are important and raise concerns that YouTube “may well be the most powerful influence of them all because of its nature.”

–Lindsey Tanner, AP Medical Writer

(TM and © Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • swizzle

    who cares, this is a free nation where the stupid can cut themselves up, i fully support these mental midgets removing themselves from society as they contribute nothing worthwhile anyway. I’d suggest they use a chainsaw next time

  • J

    I bet you would think differently if those where your kids cutting and taping it….

    • Greg

      If and when I have kids, they’ll be raised properly enough to know not to cut themselves.

      • johnny chingas

        Sure, buddy.

      • TiredOfDumbCommentsFromPeopleLikeYou

        You probably would be the type of parent whose child would be a cutter. But then again, what type of parent is that, any because mental illness is a human problem.

  • Juanita

    Are you in pain and have no one to talk with, because that is also the problem with these people, so sad. Your noncompassion and coldness leaves one to believe that something tragic has happen to you or is going on today, seek help.

  • Growwwwl

    Aparently swizzle is not intimately familiar with the concept of cutting. It makes a person distracted with the immedate pains to try to forget the ever eternal pain of mental/physical/sexual abuse (whether it be adult or child)

    • AEC

      How true. That was a cold-hearted thing to say. BTW, why doesn’t You Tube police its site? It’s their site. They should be able to ban those kinds of things.

      • Bill T.

        That would be cesorship.Something this country needs less of.That would be like blaming Craig’s List for people hooking up for sex.Oops,thats right,the government already has it’s face where it doesn’t belong. Censorship is unamerican!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Paulette

    The reality is subjects of this nature are available through all various channels, i.e. Facebook, or simply by typing keywords into a search engine. Perhaps, the internet-specifiically Youtube-is not the problem. Maybe parents should keep a closer eye on what their children are viewing online and talk to their children a bit more…it’s just a suggestion.

  • Dan Rakow

    My favorites on You Tube are Classic TV Commercial,Music and watching Classic News Coverage of Apollo Moon Landings with Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra cover it for CBS News.

    I’m blessed and happy to use You Tube with Common Sense and I like it see it with everybody especially with Kids,Teens and Young Adults.

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