-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
FRIDAY, April 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- People seeking help
online for cutting and other forms of self-harm often receive
incorrect or misleading information, a new study suggests.
Just one in 10 Internet sites related to non-suicidal
self-injury is endorsed by health or academic institutions, the
It's estimated that 14 percent to 21 percent of teens and young
adults engage in self-injurious behaviors such as cutting, burning
and bruising. Young people may use this behavior to cope with
"It's a stigmatizing issue for many people and it's quite misunderstood, so going online is often more appealing to them in terms of getting information," said study author Stephen Lewis, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph in Canada.
"Unfortunately, much of the information we found on the Internet is of poor quality, and some of it propagates myths about people who self-injure, which may lead to further stigmatization and isolation," Lewis said in a university news release.
To analyze the quality of information on self-injury available
on the Internet, the researchers used a Google keywords program.
They identified 92 terms related to the behavior that get at least
1,000 hits each month. For each term, they examined the content on
the websites displayed on the first page of each search.
"We focused on the first page because often people don't get beyond that when doing online searches," Lewis noted.
About 22 percent of the links that showed up in the searches
were for health information websites, according to the study
published online recently in
JAMA Pediatrics. But only 10 percent of these websites was
endorsed by a health or academic institution.
The investigators also found that each website contained at
least one myth about self-injury. Among the misconceptions found
was that self-injury is linked to gender and that self-injury is an
About half of the websites examined said that people who
self-injure have mental illness, and 40 percent said those who
self-injure have a history of abuse. Meanwhile, 37 percent said
most people who engage in self-injury are women. All of these
statements are either false or exaggerated, the researchers
The implications are significant, Lewis said.
"Parents, peers and others looking to help someone with [nonsuicidal self-injury] may also be seeking information online, and what they are finding may be impacting their effectiveness as sources of support," Lewis said.
Over the past year, there were more than 42 million global
searches using terms related to self-injury, the authors pointed
out. More credible information on self-injury needs to be at the
top of search pages, and Internet users should be educated on how
to make sense of the health information they find online, they
"We were a bit surprised by the number of searches related to the topic but more surprised at how much of the information we came across was of low quality," Lewis said. "The Internet potentially is a powerful vehicle to reach out to those who self-injure and offer help and recovery resources, but we have to do it effectively and correctly."
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about
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