I love reading articles (both online and in print) as I find it is relevent and important for me to stay up-to-date on current events for professional and personal reasons. It saddens me how many of these articles I find are focused on an increased risk for mental health disorders. “Trends” of complex issues that are arising in our community. I guess this gives me job security but in an unfortunate capacity!
Yesterday I came across an article in the Denver Post titled “YouTube videos of cutting stir fears“. Cutting is a form of self-harm, which is described as “the intentional, direct injuring of body tissue WITHOUT suicidal intent.” The most common form of self-harm is skin cutting, but it can also be evidenced by scratching, burning, banging or hitting of body parts, hair pulling, or ingesting dangerous substances. This topic is dear to my heart, especially during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, because eating disorders are considered to be a form of self harm and there often are signs of other types of self harm evident when one is affected by an eating disorder. Also, in my work studying the mind-body connection, I am deeply empathetic to those who feel their emotional pain play out on their bodies and in turn elicit physical pain — which is, actually, used as a form of relief from the emotional pain. The complex cycle of physical and emotional pain playing roles of soothing one another can get dangerously out of control, and can result in an unintentional suicide. Self-injury is most common amongst young people, and 14-24% of teens and young adults have engaged in some form of it.
The article talks about “how to” guides on YouTube that affected individuals are posting to “help” others learn how to perfect the form of cutting. This reminds me all too well of the pro-eating disorder websites that teach others how to “succeed” at an eating disorder and offer “support” for achieving the eating disorder’s deadly ideals. They promote eating disorders as a type of lifestyle. Canadian psychologist Stephen Lewis, who co-authored a study focusing on the rising numbers of these cutting videos on YouTube, said the videos “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.” He also stated that of the 100 videos that the study focused on, there were more than 2 million views in the online community.
While one benefit of these videos might be that they are taking the topic of self-harm out into the public views so that we can talk about it more, I worry about the careful handling of this type of situation. There is a fine line between giving education about a dangerous behavior, promoting elminitation of the problem, and “giving ideas about how to do” self-harm. For those of us who advocate for increased mental health education and prevention of self-harm, we must walk this fine line and raise our voices in a way that promotes health and not further harm. I understand deeply the connection between our emotional minds and our physical selves and how the pain we might be feeling can somehow be coped with by transferring the pain onto our physical bodies. Sometimes this physical pain is easier to bear. However, this does not lessen the emotional pain, but only push it deeper inside of ourselves in self-destruction.
If you know someone who might be engaging in a form of self-harm, do not hesitate to reach out for help from a trained professional. As with eating disorders, the earlier you can detect a problem, the earlier you can start the path of recovery.