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J Adolesc. 2017 Oct;60:140-147. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.08.001. Epub 2017 Sep 4.

The influence of online images on self-harm: A qualitative study of young people aged 16-24.

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The Centre for Trials Research, Cardif University, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4YS, UK. Electronic address:
DECIPHER, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, The Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK.
Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, The Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK. Electronic address:


To date, research on the role of the Internet in self-harm has focused on young people's interaction via the medium of text, with limited consideration of the effect of images. This qualitative study explores how young people understand and use online images of self-harm. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a community sample of 21 individuals aged 16-24 living in Wales, UK, with a previous history of self-harm. Interviewees reported the role of the Internet in normalising young people's self-harm. Images rather than textual interactions are the primary reason cited for using the Internet for self-harm purposes. Images invoke a physical reaction and inspire behavioural enactment, with Tumblr, which permits the sharing of images by anonymous individuals, being the preferred platform. Viewing online images serves a vital role in many young people's self-harm, as part of ritualistic practice. Online prevention and intervention need to attend to the importance of images.


Internet; Qualitative research; Self-harm; Self-injury; Social media

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