Digital Self Harm in the 21st Century
An intriguing op-ed discussing the detrimental effect that digital self harm has had on teenagers' mental health. This piece is written by a member of the Log Off Writers Group, Julianne Freytag.
WARNING : this piece contains mature topics that may not be suitable for all readers. Viewer discredition is advised. We suggest this piece only be read by those who are 16 and older.
No matter who you are, there are people out there who hate people like you. No matter your race, gender, religion, politics, class, or sexuality, there are people who detest that quality about you. Maybe you are one of those people. In the age of social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to attack others and potentially ourselves. What are the consequences of this?
Digital self-harm is a form of psychological abuse where the individual essentially cyberbullies themselves. One way that this is expressed is through anonymously posting content on social media talking about oneself in degrading and hurtful ways. Digital self-harm also is also demonstrated through intentionally subjecting oneself to content that you know will upset, trigger, or otherwise cause you emotional distress. For example, browsing White supremacy groups as a person of color. Sites such as Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter harbor a shocking number of hate groups. Some advocate genocide. Some advocate rape or violence to certain communities. Some advocate discrimination or bigotry. It’s important to recognize all of them for what they are.
There is increasing evidence that the internet and social media can severely effect a person’s mental health, especially in the case of vulnerable populations. Around 6% of students (mainly men) have admitted to anonymously posting harmful things about themselves online. Other sources say the statistics could be much higher. The issue is that digital self-harm doesn’t just stay digital. It can escalate into depression, anxiety, physical self-harm or potentially even worse. There have been several suicides that initially were attributed to cyberbullying and later found that all of the hateful comments came from the victim’s own computer.
I have personal connections to this form of self-harm. Watching people tear me apart so harshly was somehow alluring. Social media has always felt addictive, but this was different. I just couldn’t pull myself away. I needed to see my insecurities and doubts about who I was be justified. I read some very dark things. Women are worthless and subhuman. People with my beliefs will burn for eternity in hell. People who look like me are disgusting. The world would undoubtedly be a better place without people like me. In my heart, I know these things aren’t true. So, why couldn’t I stop? It became a ritual and I actively sought out this content. One night, I spent hours lying in bed browsing these forms, progressively feeling worse, worse, and worse. I eventually pried myself away from the phone, but stared at the ceiling all night. Am I worthless?
Everyone uses different coping mechanisms to deal with their pain. Digital self-harm was just my way to cope with my uncomfortable and invasive thoughts. However, there isn’t a singular reason why people use this form of self-harm. Some people express that they just wanted to make themselves feel worse than they already felt. For others, reading or posting hurtful comments about oneself online can make the reality in our heads closer match actual reality. Others, feel that digital self-harm is just a way to get the inevitable abuse over with. Other times, it’s about craving approval, wanting people to worry, or to show off their mental fortitude. In addition to all this, the excessive amount of negative and abusive content that is present on the internet, specifically social media, makes it almost impossible to not run headfirst into it.
During this pandemic, mental health is such an important topic to be discussing. Right now, our lives are more online than ever. The news cycle is pumping out anxiety inducing things hourly. Political and racial tensions are especially high, and the internet allows us to become closer than ever with this tension. If you notice that the content that you are consuming is negatively affecting your mental health: take a second and try to think about why you sought out this content. Is it to inform yourself or to harm yourself? Taking little breaks from the internet and social media was essential in regaining my self-confidence. Also, keep in mind that the content we consume doesn’t just roll off of us. Be gentle with yourself and your mind. Seek help if you feel you need it. Remember that your experience is valid. You have worth.
Fraga, Juli. “When Teens Cyberbully Themselves.” NPR, NPR, 21 Apr. 2018, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/21/604073315/when-teens-cyberbully-themselves.
Lee, Rebecca. “What Is Digital Self-Harm?” Psych Central, Psych Central, 8 Oct. 2018, psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-digital-self-harm/.
Hurley, Katie. “Digital Self-Harm: Why Are Teens Cyber Bullying Themselves?” Psycom.net , Remedy Health Media, 18 Mar. 2019, www.psycom.net/digital-self-harm.
Luxton, David D, et al. “Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective.” American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, May 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3477910/.
Memon, Aksha M, et al. “The Role of Online Social Networking on Deliberate Self-Harm and Suicidality in Adolescents: A Systematized Review of Literature.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, Dec. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6278213/.
Preece, Tamasine. “Social Suicide: A Digital Context for Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation.” SpringerLink, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1 Jan. 1970, link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137415608_9.