Nonsuicidal self-injury, the deliberate destruction of one's body tissue (eg, self-cutting, burning) without suicidal intent, has consistent rates ranging from 14% to 24% among youth and young adults. With more youth using video-sharing Web sites (eg, YouTube), this study examined the accessibility and scope of nonsuicidal self-injury videos online.
Using YouTube's search engine (and the following key words: “self-injury” and “self-harm”), the 50 most viewed character (ie, with a live individual) and noncharacter videos (100 total) were selected and examined across key quantitative and qualitative variables.
The top 100 videos analyzed were viewed over 2 million times, and most (80%) were accessible to a general audience. Viewers rated the videos positively (M = 4.61; SD: 0.61 out of 5.0) and selected videos as a favorite over 12 000 times. The videos' tones were largely factual or educational (53%) or melancholic (51%). Explicit imagery of self-injury was common. Specifically, 90% of noncharacter videos had nonsuicidal self-injury photographs, whereas 28% of character videos had in-action nonsuicidal self-injury. For both, cutting was the most common method. Many videos (58%) do not warn about this content.
The nature of nonsuicidal self-injury videos on YouTube may foster normalization of nonsuicidal self-injury and may reinforce the behavior through regular viewing of nonsuicidal self-injury–themed videos. Graphic videos showing nonsuicidal self-injury are frequently accessed and received positively by viewers. These videos largely provide nonsuicidal self-injury information and/or express a hopeless or melancholic message. Professionals working with youth and young adults who enact nonsuicidal self-injury need to be aware of the scope and nature of nonsuicidal self-injury on YouTube.