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Study shows digital self-harm linked to suicide

One of the first studies on digital self-harm shows an association between it and suicide.

TENNESSEE, USA — A study from the Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health showed young people who engage in "digital self-harm" may be at a higher risk for suicide.

Digital self-harm refers to online behaviors where people may post, send or share "hurtful content about oneself." The survey said that research on the behavior is still undergoing. One common kind of digital self-harm is when a person creates a fake social media account and posts hurtful comments about themselves through it.

The study showed that people who engage in digital self-harm are up to 15 times more likely to have thoughts of suicide or attempt suicide. Experts said doctors should be screening for this to help identify mental health concerns.

Thriveworks clinician Nona Kelly explained people may engage in digital self-harm they do that for several reasons. 

"Some of the studies suggest that oftentimes it can be a cry for help. Oftentimes, also they're looking for kind of the online recognition of, 'Hey, look, I have a lot of followers and people I'm so popular that people are actually commenting negative things about me,'" she said.

RELATED: Resources: Where to find mental health help in East TN

Kelly said this behavior can be damaging. But for young people, it can be challenging to ask for help.  

"And a lot of times young people feel like they're possibly the only ones that have that issue, which, as adults, we know that's probably not true. But as young people, it's difficult to feel like we are going to make ourselves vulnerable opening ourselves up for something that we have not asked for," Kelly said.

Experts said being more aware and connected to kids' online profiles is really important for parents.

"I definitely feel like more studies need to be out there on how screen time and depression or anxiety are related, just to put it in a big picture. And what we need to know, to help the next generation with that," she said.

Non-verbal cues are important. Some of the most common kinds of nonverbal cues that can indicate mental health issues in kids are below.

  • Mood changes
  • Change in physical appearance
  • If they're disconnected and have lost interest in things they normally love

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).



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