Houston: An alarming trend of a new form of self-harm is emerging in teens, where they anonymously post mean things about themselves online, scientists including one of Indian origin have found.
Adolescents harming themselves with cuts, scratches or burns has gained a lot of attention over the years not just because of the physical damage and internal turmoil, but also because it has been linked to suicide.
More recently, self-cyberbullying in youth has emerged and is a cause for concern, researchers warn. “Digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self- cyberbullying,” is a behaviour where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online.
“The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said Sameer Hinduja, a professor at Florida Atlantic University in the US.
“We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about one in 20 middle- and high- school-age students have bullied themselves online,” said Hinduja.
Researchers used sample of 5,593 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the US to find out how many youth participated in digital self- harm, as well as their motivations for such behaviour.
They also examined if certain correlates of offline self-harm also applied to digital forms of self-harm. The findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, show that nearly six per cent of the teens reported that they had anonymously posted something mean about themselves online.
Boys were more likely to participate in this behaviour compared to girls. Their reasons varied dramatically. Boys described their behaviour as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt.
This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behaviour among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide.
To ascertain motivations behind the behaviour, researchers included an open-ended question asking respondents to tell them why they had engaged in digital self-harm.
Most comments centred around certain themes: self-hate; attention seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react. Qualitative data from the study showed that many who had participated in digital self-harm were looking for a response.
Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were three times more likely to bully themselves online. In addition, victims of cyberbullying were nearly 12 times as likely to have cyberbullied themselves compared to those who were not victims.
Those who reported using drugs or participating in deviance, had depressive symptoms, or had previously engaged in self-harm behaviours offline were all significantly more likely to have engaged in digital self-harm.
“Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviours might precede suicide attempts,” said Hinduja