Researchers cataloged and analyzed websites related
to nonsuicidal self-injury — which is physically injuring oneself
intentionally without attempting suicide — and found less than 10
percent of the sites were endorsed by health or academic
"For many people it's a first step and if what they're getting is
poor quality that's a bit worrisome," said lead author Stephen
Lewis, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Guelph
He and his colleagues write in JAMA Pediatrics that between 14 and
21 percent of teens and young adults engage in nonsuicidal
self-injury. The injuries can be inflicted by various methods,
including cutting and burning.
People self-injure for a number of reasons, Lewis told Reuters
Health, including as a way of dealing with negative emotions, to
punish oneself or simply to feel something.
Because others may not understand self injury or those who do it may
prefer to not talk about it in person, Lewis said people may turn to
the Internet for information.
"It seems to be more salient for those issues that are more
stigmatized and more difficult to talk about in off-line
interactions," he said.
To assess the information likely to come up in an online search,
Lewis and his colleagues used a Google keywords program to identify
92 terms related to nonsuicidal self-injury that get at least 1,000
hits each month. They then analyzed content on websites displayed in
the first page of Google search results for each term.
"We wanted to understand what people are actually getting access
to," Lewis said. "We wanted to focus on the first page of results
because that's where people tend to click."
About 22 percent of the websites contained health information, but
only about one in 10 of those was endorsed by a health or academic
The other websites contained pictures of self-injuries, did not
pertain to the topic at all or were collections of blogs and
The researchers then dug deeper into the health information
websites. They found approximately one myth about nonsuicidal
self-injury per website.
For example, a site may have stated that people who engage in this
behavior have a mental illness, have a history of abuse or are
primarily women. Each of those claims has been debunked, according
[to top of second column]
He said there are a few different ways to address the issue of
misinformation about nonsuicidal self-injury online, including
getting credible sites at the top of search pages.
"I think one thing that can be done is make sure there are good-quality resources out there," he said. "We know there are. We
The website by Lewis' group is at
Other credible sources the team recommends in their report are:
www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu, by a Cornell University
research group, and www.selfinjury.com.
Another possibility for improving the quality of information
available, Lewis said, is to give pediatricians a list of
Apart from the misinformation, there is a positive side to the new
findings, one self-injury researcher who wasn't involved in the new
study told Reuters Health.
"My take-away is that it's good that awareness is starting to grow,"
said Janis Whitlock, a research scientist at the Bronfenbrenner
Center for Translational Research at Cornell University in Ithaca,
"Of course, with the proliferation of information there is going to
be the proliferation of things that aren't quite true," Whitlock
"That seems to be the nature of the Web," she said. "There is
nothing you can't find. We all have to be educated searchers."
Pediatrics, online March 24, 2014.
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.