Poll reveals affect of online self-harm images on children and young people

Ollie Drackford
Head of Marcoms

Alarming numbers of 11-21 years olds are being exposed to images online showing people self-harming, with a significant proportion saying the images make them ‘feel like hurting themselves’, according to a poll commissioned by a consortium of leading UK youth charities.

The poll also reveals a worrying insight into the number of children and young people self-harming in Britain today. Over half of 11-14 year olds have self-harmed themselves or know someone who has self-harmed and eight out of every ten 18-21 year olds say they have  self-harmed or know someone who has self-harmed.

ChildLine, YouthNet (the charity behind TheSite.org), selfharmUK and YoungMinds commissioned a poll of 2,000 children and young people between the ages of 11 and 21. The charities are releasing the findings ahead of Self-Harm Awareness Day (Sunday 1stMarch).

Among the findings:

  • One in every four 11-14 year olds and seven out of ten of 18-21 year olds said they had seen images online showing someone self-harming
  • Of those who had seen an image of someone self-harming, over half of all 11-14 year olds and one in every four 18-21 year olds said they had ‘felt like hurting themselves’ after seeing these images
  • Of those who had seen an image of someone self-harming, nine out of every ten 11-14 year olds and eight out of every ten 18-21year olds said they had found the images upsetting.
  • Of those who had seen an image of someone self-harming, six out of every ten 11-14 year olds and one in ten 18-21 year olds said they had shared images of someone self-harming on social media
  • Over half of all 11-21 year olds said they wouldn’t know how to report an image of someone self-harming on social media
  • Around a third of 11-18 year olds and 69% of 18-21 year olds said they would go online for support and information about self-harm

Speaking on behalf of the charities, Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns at YoungMinds, says: “These findings are extremely worrying and beg concerning questions about the relationship between self-harm, children, young people and parts of the online world. Our research shows that exposure to images of people self-harming online is far too common among children and young people and that this exposure is having a significant effect on their well-being.

“What is most frightening is the young age of children being affected by online imagery with 11-14 year olds finding the images particularly upsetting and making them more likely to self-harm themselves. Sharing images of self-harm on social media is also more common among these younger age groups, which is also a very worrying finding.

“Our research provides a troubling insight into young people and social media in relation to self-harm. There is an urgent need for more detailed research so that we can gain a deeper understanding of why the numbers of young people who are self-harming are continuing to climb at such an alarming rate.

“We must do more to build emotional resilience among children and young people to help them deal with the pressures that they face both online and offline.

Emma Thomas, CEO of YouthNet added: “We all have a responsibility to share content and images responsibly online and to be aware of how what we post might affect others. Far more must be done to educate and empower young people, so they can be safer online.

“This isn’t about demonising the internet or social media, it’s about making it a safer space for children and young people and our charities want to work with social media providers to achieve this.

“The online support provided to thousands of children and young people by our respective charities demonstrates how the internet can and is being used for good.”

To mark Self-Harm Awareness Day (Sunday March 1st), the charities are running a week-long online awareness campaign.

You can follow the Self-Harm Awareness Day activity on Twitter via #selfharm and #selfharmawarenessday and find out more about the campaign on each of the charities websites.


*Case studies for press and media interviews are available on request.

Media Enquiries: Chris Leaman at YoungMinds on 020 7089 5066 or 07813 810114 or Kate Sidwell at YouthNet, [email protected] or 07910 154673

Notes to Editors:

About the poll

2,000 11-21 year olds were surveyed by OnePoll between 21/1/15 and 27/1/15.

About the Charities/Services

YouthNet is the charity behind online guide to life, TheSite.org which supports around 1 million 16 to 25 year olds in the UK each year. The UK’s first exclusively online charity, YouthNet creates digital solutions to ease young people’s isolation and to make their lives better. www.youthnet.org

ChildLine offers children and young people aged 18 and under free, confidential advice and support 24 hours a day – no problem is too big or small. Our trained volunteer counsellors can be contacted through our helpline 0800 1111 or on www.childline.org.uk for online chat or email.

YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Driven by their experiences, we campaign, research and influence policy and practice. www.youngminds.org.uk

selfharmUK – Is a safe, pro-recovery website that supports young people who self-harm. It also offers training for parents, carers and professionals equipping them to handle disclosure and provide effective support. www.selfharm.co.uk


What is self-harm? The phrase ‘self-harm’ is used to describe a wide range of behaviours. Self-harm is often understood to be a physical response to an emotional pain of some kind, and can be very addictive. Some of the things people do are quite well known, such as cutting, burning or pinching, but there are many, many ways to hurt yourself, including abusing drugs and alcohol or having an eating disorder.


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Published on 27-Feb-2015