Positive messaging through social media could be a powerful tool to help people overcome non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), a new study has found.
The study, published in the journal Digital Health, suggested that those who engage in NSSI, the Internet can provide a less threatening and more anonymous information and support network, especially if individuals are not getting support elsewhere.
"Self-injury, including cutting and burning, is a serious public health concern around the world," said lead author Stephen Lewis, Professor at Canada's University of Guelph.
The researchers also found that while it affects people of all ages, self-injury is more prevalent among people from 14 to 24. Within that age range, up to one in five have engaged in self-injury.
"We know that young people who struggle with self-injury often go online to obtain needed social support," said Lewis, adding that the stigma surrounding self-injury contributes to a strong sense of isolation.
For the study, the researchers measured how online comments about self-injury affected the attitudes about recovery in people who have engaged in self-injury.
The team embedded fictional peer comments in a screenshot of an NSSI-themed YouTube video and assessed attitudes about NSSI recovery before and after positive and negative messaging.
While there is growing concern that accessing NSSI content online may hinder recovery, the researcher found that exposure to positive comments improved participants' attitudes about recovery.
They also found that exposure to pessimistic comments about recovery did not increase participants' sense of hopelessness.
"NSSI is a complex concern, but many who self-injure experience very painful, intense and difficult emotions that are perceived as extremely difficult to tolerate and control," Lewis said.
"To this end, we see that the most common reason given for self-injury is to get relief from these adverse experiences, even if for a moment," Lewis noted.