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Harmful or helpful? The role of the internet in self-harming and suicidal behaviour in young people

Bell, Jo



Purpose: The internet plays an important role in the lives of self-harming and suicidal young people yet little is known about how internet use influences this behaviour. The purpose of this paper is to examine the evidence base with a view to determining directions for future research and practice. Design/methodology/approach: Literature relating to self-harming and suicidal behaviour, young people, and the internet is reviewed with a focus on content and methodology. Findings: The internet provides access to: "how-to" descriptions of suicide; unregulated/illegal online pharmacies; forums to spread this information; access to others seeking to end their own lives. Such sites are believed to elevate risk amongst vulnerable individuals. Conversely, the internet provides access to intervention and prevention activity, online support groups, advice, and personal chat. These can be a key resource in helping young people. There is a lack of consensus on what constitutes harmful and helpful online exchange, often evidenced in disparity between the perceptions of professionals and users. Research limitations/implications: Research is needed to map out a more accurate picture of suicide and self-harm resources on the internet and to establish a consensus about what constitutes harmful and helpful exchange. This needs to be based on: a comprehensive and informed range of search terms; a clear distinction between types of resource; a clear and consistent rationale for distinguishing and categorizing sites; a systematic replicable methodology for plotting the scope, content, accessibility, and popularity of web resources at a given point in time; the views of young people who use these sites, as well as practitioners and professionals. Practical implications: Practitioners need to: regularly assess the quantity, quality, and nature of selfharm/suicide focused internet use amongst service users; be aware of which sites are most appropriate for particular individuals; promote sites directed at young people that enhance effective coping. Professional mental health organizations need to find ways of ensuring that: they are consistently well represented amongst search results online; sites are readily accessible; more practitioners are trained in text-based communications. Originality/value: This paper offers a framework and rationale for future research and for those involved in service provision, policy, and practice. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


Bell, J. (2014). Harmful or helpful? The role of the internet in self-harming and suicidal behaviour in young people. Mental Health Review Journal, 19(1), 61-71.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 1, 2014
Publication Date Mar 5, 2014
Deposit Date May 28, 2019
Journal Mental Health Review Journal
Print ISSN 1361-9322
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 61-71
Keywords Internet; Prevention; Young people; Online behaviour; Suicide and self-harm; Web resources
Public URL