International Research

To date, there has been minimal research conducted that focuses specifically on the role of media reporting on rates and patterns of self-harm. The research that has been conducted has found that:

  • In a sample of 17-25 year olds who had either been admitted to an adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit or a general hospital following injury from self-harm, some reported that a story presented in the media had prompted them to self-harm 1.
  • In the same study, some patients reported beneficial effects of the media on self-harming behaviour, either in terms of preventing an act or encouraging help seeking.
  • In a study of persons engaging in self-harm (ages 18 to 35 years and over), some participants indicated that ‘outside sources’ such as magazine articles, books and message boards had introduced them to the idea of self-harm 2.
  • The same study suggests that increasing exposure to media and new ‘knowledge’ may contribute to lowering ages of onset of self-harming behaviours, and may also result in increasing numbers of people who self-harm 2.
Emerging Principles

While the research concerning media reporting and self-harm is limited, several major principles from the literature on the impact of reporting on suicide can reasonably be applied to self-harm. These include:

  • A succession of stories may normalise self-harming behaviour as an acceptable option.
  • The language used in a media report may glamorise or sensationalise self-harming behaviour, or present the behaviour as a solution to problems.
  • Coverage of self-harming behaviours by celebrities can glamorise or prompt imitation behaviour.
  • Prominent positioning of stories about self-harm may lead to copycat behaviours.
  • Failing to report underlying issues associated with self-harming may reinforce stereotypes and myths about self-harm and make it more difficult for individuals to seek help.

Guidelines and principles for sensitive and effective reporting of self-harm can be found here


References

[1] Zahl, D. L., & Hawton, K. (2004). Media influences on suicidal behaviour: An interview study of young people. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 32, 189-198.

[2] Hodgson, S. (2004). Cutting through the silence: A sociological construction of self-injury. Sociological Inquiry, 74(2), 162-179