The new frontier: online support for those who self-injure

Published: 2 April 2012

Video – Heath & self-injury research

High resolution clips for journalists (names at end)


New website offers help and information for recovery from self-injury

To address the pressing need to provide online recovery-focused support for those who self-injure, McGill University professor Nancy Heath and Stephen Lewis, of Guelph University have developed a new website, Self-injury Outreach and Support (SiOS).

Research has shown that between 14 and 24 per cent of youth and young adults have engaged in self-injury at least once, according to Heath. About a quarter of those have done it more frequently than that and more than half never tell an adult or mental health professional. Self-injury is the intentional destruction of one’s body tissue, without suicidal intent, but excludes tattooing or piercing. Most commonly, this includes self-cutting, burning and bruising.

Last year, Lewis, Heath, and their team of researchers were the first to study the alarming trend of teens posting self-injury videos on YouTube. Their findings suggested that, for some, social media may make self-injury seem like a viable way to cope with distress while providing a sense of belonging and community among those who watch and post these videos. Heath and Lewis have also found that there are numerous videos of self-injury online with millions of views from around the world. But their research has also suggested that the Internet may represent a powerful means to reach those who self-injure to provide helpful resources.  YouTube has been in consultation with Heath and Lewis as a result of their research to work to minimize potential harm and facilitate access to helpful information and materials for users at risk of non-suicidal self-injury, as well as their friends, partners and families who go to YouTube. “In this consultation, I have seen that YouTube is committed to working with us to ensure that individuals viewing self-injury videos on YouTube have access to healthy resources and support,” said Dr. Heath.

SiOS provides research-informed and current resources and support with a focus on recovery. It has downloadable best practice guides for the professionals who work with those who self-injure, including school professionals and health professionals. It also has guides for parents and for those who are struggling with self-injury.

“We know that unfortunately, many who self-injure do not seek help, but many youth and young adults use the Internet, so the Internet provides us with a unique opportunity to reach those struggling with self-injury. Moreover, the Internet is globally accessible, so our outreach website can be used worldwide. We expect the impact of this could be far-reaching.”, stated Dr. Heath.

SiOS is a groundbreaking project and the first international online outreach initiative offering support and resources not only for individuals who self injure, but also for their families, romantic partners, friends, and school, medical, and mental health professionals.

The research was funded in part by:

James McGill Research Award

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council


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