Twitter self-harm hashtag concerning for Utah mental health experts

Aug 31, 2022, 4:30 PM
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FILE - The Twitter application is seen on a digital device, April 25, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s been a 500% increase in a self-harm hashtag on Twitter. And it has mental health experts asking the social media company to implement existing rules on graphic photographs.

The concern comes after a report by the Network Contagion Research Institute. It found a community that promotes self-harm is circulating graphic depictions of self-harm on Twitter. And, that Twitter’s algorithms are pushing the photos to people who may be searching for help for self-harm.

Related: Is it time for parents to remove kids from social media?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness describes self-harm as intentionally injuring yourself, typically with a sharp object.

Another concern is whether these social media posts may be linked to more people who are self-harming. Mindy Westlund Schreiner, a licensed clinical psychologist with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, told KSL NewsRadio that at least in the recent past, instances of self-harm haven’t increased.

“Self-harm has generally been leveled off for a while,” Westlund Schreiner said. But new epidemiological research might find an uptick linked to  Twitter.

“We do know that emergency department visits related to suicidal ideation and self-harm has increased in the last couple of years since the pandemic,” Westlund Schreiner said.

Is there a cause-and-effect relationship?

Concern that a growing social media trend may prompt more young people to think about self-harm is not unfounded. Research published in 2020 on the effects of the “blue whale challenge” concluded that posts about suicide, especially if they are repeated, can normalize suicide, especially among adolescents.

Related: Expert gives tips on conquering your downward social media scroll

“Those images can increase suicidal behavior, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and kind of serve as a way to reinforce the behavior, instead of as a way to support and help others find a different behavior,” Westlund Schreiner said.

Parents, kids, and discussions about Twitter, self-harm

The beginning of the school year is a good time for parents to talk about topics like self-harm.

“A lot of this can be couched in wanting to discuss what their child is thinking about the school year… how do you feel about school starting, what are you looking forward to,” Westlund Schreiner said. “It’s a conversation that could easily lead into whether the child has heard anything recently about self-harm on Twitter, and if that’s something that concerns the student.”


If you or anyone you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call 988, the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

Or call 1-800-273-TALK, or the Huntsman Mental Health Institute 1-801-583-2500.


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Twitter self-harm hashtag concerning for Utah mental health experts