I don’t know about you, but I knew very little about harmful online imagery before I came to work for SelfharmUK. I knew that images of people self-harming existed online, but I had no idea about how easy they were to find.
Within the first few months of working here, I was asked to do a bit of research into what pro self-harm sites were - and was quite shocked by some of the imagery I came across.
I guess it’s easy for me to say that I was shocked by the images I saw, mostly because I’m not a harmer, and at the time, I didn’t fully understand exactly why anyone would choose to self-harm in the first place. Fast forward to almost 3 years later, I now know a lot more about self-injury and harming behaviour than I ever thought I would. For example, I know that physical pain often provides people with something less painful than what they are actually feeling, that physical pain is easier to explain than emotional pain; that self-harm is not an act of attention seeking, but rather an act of self-expression (or in other words, a cry for help from someone who is finding life difficult to manage); and lastly (but most importantly), that people who self-harm don’t usually want to take their own lives.
Despite all the knowledge I’ve gained, I still struggle with the idea of harmful online imagery. Taking photos and sharing these types of images isn’t something I can easily understand. Why would anyone seek out these images (accept for recognising that for them, it is harming behaviour)?
Firstly, let’s confirm what I mean by ‘harmful images.’ These are any images that have been shared online that present or depict self-harm or suicide because they are triggering and/or upsetting. Some of these images originate from unregulated sites and forums, whilst others are being posted and shared across social media using hashtags that are constantly changing.
The images themselves aren’t always real images that the user who posted it has taken. They’re generally recycled images that have been shared and re-posted from other places.
Harmful images fuel self-harming behaviour and make it harder for those affected to recover. Why? Because anyone viewing these images uses them to normalise their own behaviour and validate their hatred towards themselves. This in turn, leads to the creation of online communities where people feel like they are being understood, when in fact, they’re being fed this lie that this is as good as life is ever going to get for them.
Whether you’re tempted to look at harmful online images, have been looking at them for years, or are worried about someone who is - it’s not too late to do something about it.
We’re not judging you for being tempted to look, but you need to know that these images aren’t helpful for you, and are damaging to your mental health.
If you or a friend are already involved with a site that is encouraging your self-harm to get worse - tell a trusted adult about it. If you don’t have one of those, you can always speak to a trained counsellor at childline using their app, or by calling 0800 111.
No matter how you’re feeling, next time you’re online, challenge yourself to find supportive sites and uplifting images that inspire hope and recovery - instead of toxic online communities that push you to hurt even more. Here are a few places you cold try...
Remember… things can always get better, but only if you let them.