How harmful is the #?
Having put off completing this article time and time again, due to the taboo of commenting on mental health and how sensitively the matter does have to be handled, it took a disagreement with one of my oldest friends to have the courage to publish the notes I have generated. I do not feel as though I can ever complete this piece as no one person thinks or feels the same way. So here is a mishmash of notes and others comments on the subject.
Having a few close friends that have self harmed I realise that I am by no means able to comment on every person’s personal experiences with self harm and mental illness however I am able to understand my experience with mental health, how I avoided self harm and my experience with friends that got to that desperate point.
Having been loosely diagnosed with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome) I am struck with the blessing and curse that means I have to be 100% in control of myself. This came with the battle between self harm, known to cause relief and the uncontrollable painful consequence of bleeding. Consequence won and due to my own personal battle with ‘mental illness’ I never self harmed. How ever it did lead to me wanting to know how people manage to get past the nurtured belief of pain in order to feel a release from pain? Pain to lose pain? That makes little sense to me still.
This article is no way a judgment or understanding of self harm, more a piece highlighting how much more widespread this unfortunate habit appears to have become due to how individuals now have the platform available to post their experiences online, without perhaps realising how this consequently affects other vulnerable persons.
Switching mindlessly from one social media app to another there appears to be a nauseating recurrence of hashtags #secretsociety123 #ana #suicide #thinspo #cutting #selfharm the list is endless yet they all lead to the same question. How healthy is the hashtag?
Both Tumblr and Instagram have put ‘content advisory’ walls in place offering those searching these #’s aid yet have done nothing to prevent them being used. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to ban the #’s all together or would this only tip those using them over the edge?
“I sometimes feel vulnerable online because lots of things that people say can have a big impact on someone” @mollyxxhayward4
“when you see things over and over it certainly becomes engraved in your mind” @korriekorrie
“its sad that so many people have become so reliant on social media all together and its now being used in such a terrible way it’s scary” @korriekorrie
“hashtags like these and pictures with these need to be taken down or removed because they are putting youths in more of a risk than lets say a women's nipple which isn't allowed to be on Instagram!” @mollyxxhayward
“social media should block the hashtags. It makes it so easy to look up other people and what they're doing/eating and tumblr and Instagram know that the hashtags exist because they always warn you first about the content. I think that if it would be banned, people wouldn't be able to compare their body/ scars/ whatever they're struggling with and thus be less triggered.” @anon
“I feel they should be banned, it makes me very upset how things are being portrayed to younger children or even people my age. they do not help mental illnesses at all.” @emilyydavey
“Hashtags (in particular those like #thinspo and #selfharm) are far more damaging than those using them realise as many of the people actively using them on social media are not the ones suffering. I find some of them particularly offensive as a sufferer of mental illness myself but even for someone not in my situation I think it can be damaging to them too. I think hashtags such as this and the huge growth in social media promoting mental health as something fun and different should be regulated more carefully to perhaps help those affected by them and to stop their use all together.” @anon
HOW EASY IS IT TO FIND THESE HASHTAGS
Just like anything shocking are people seeing these #’s and exploring further simply because they are in shock at this explicit broadcasted behaviour?
“I've often stumbled across accounts that use these hashtags frequently and ended up scrolling through endless photos linked with the hashtags” @lottie_short
“They made me very ill” @anon
“I have come across these frequently on tumblr; lots of things have appeared on my dashboard related to these topics.” @anon
“I have looked at them out of curiosity and I find them to be very triggering for myself” @emilyydavey
“It’s scary to think of how easy these are to come across and the influence it can have on some people.” @korriekorrie
“I see them a lot on tumblr as I follow some sad blogs, probably because I find some content relatable. I have never used the hashtags on a photo in order to add to them however I have looked on some hashtags such as #thinspo and #depression and things like that when I went through a tough phase.” @anon
“I look up the hashtags when i feel like i need to be inspired to eat less but i end up feeling worse” @anon
“Social media is so present in modern society that the majority of youths will use it and these hashtags in particular will spread like wildfire across platforms such as Tumblr, Twitter etc.” @anon
“the media is saying how people should look and everyone now is so conscious of their image I have never met anyone that doesn’t have something to complain about themselves about.” @korriekorrie
“the evolution of tumblr has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the use of hashtags like ‘thinspo’ which is damaging for everyone using the site but especially those in recovery from an eating disorder.” @anon
“Tumblr and clothing brands have simply made mental health seem like something glamorous and to aspire to which is not the reality. Tumblr and Urban Outfitters never broadcast the devastating health risks of mental illnesses and I really think these hashtags are highlighting mental health as something cool and ‘quirky’ for teens.” @anon
they're so easy to access and give you motivation if you are suffering. However, if you're the one putting this stuff online then it is a good place to vent and it makes you feel a bit better because most people find it difficult to tell their friends and or family @anon
“I often feel like today mental illnesses are seen as a fashion statement and are hugely glamorised which is quite often through hashtags like this.” @anon
With statistics being at “a quarter of the population experiencing some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain” it is no wonder that social media has become interconnected with this subject.
In denial about their mental states, potentially seeing so much negativity and surrounded by instability that they deem it as ‘norm’ to feel and behave the way they so openly are.
90% of the people interviewed deemed themselves unstable and vulnerable.
Browsing through these #’s it is noticeable that many users chose to remain anonymous, not displaying their faces or names, perhaps in order to not be found out by people in their lives outside of the internet. Surely if not consciously subconsciously these youths know that by buying into these #’s they are not getting the support that they need.
“It doesn't surprise me with the amount of depression in the world” @yunglilvuitton
“I havent been diagnosed with an eating disorder but my relation w food definitely isnt normal and last time i checked my bmi was 15.8 so yeah i wouldnt call it stable but it's weird because i dont have most of the character traits that usually come with eating disorders. My self esteem isnt the best but for someone my age i think its pretty good, not crazy low but then again i am a perfectionist, and i do have high expectations for myself. I don't know if id call myself vulnerable.” @anon
“We are finding our selfs and sometimes get lost along the way. It's totally normal and I think it's healthy to get a little lost sometimes because that helps you know when something feels right! It's when people can't find there way back from the darkness that depression comes in play, and that is a serious problem that can't be taken lightly.” @yunglilvuitton
“mental illness is a rising problem amongst youths nowadays and social networks are becoming a popular way to document your 'journey' and connect with others who are in a similar position as you.” @maddie_bruce
“As mental health awareness has been raised in recent years I definitely think this has encouraged the use of these hashtags. Brands like Urban Outfitters have been in numerous situations where they have had to remove clothing items from their store because of the wide scale offence and outrage caused by them for example their ‘Eat Less’ tee shirt and other ‘Depression’ top. I definitely think stocking clothing items like this makes mental illness seem more normal and again for younger more impressionable individuals could lead them to think it is something of a fashion statement.” @anon
“I don't mind you saying I've contributed or what ever but I'd wish for my story on my previous email to be anonymous and these opinions because my family and most of my friends are unaware that I am as ill as I am.” @anon
“I hope one day soon this madness of "cool depression" is looked down apon.” @yunglilvuitton
HOW INFLUENCIAL THESE # ARE
“I would say so, I suffer from various mental health issues so I find these hashtags worrying. I have a younger sister who is very much like me, a vulnerable and sensitive child.” @emilyydavey
“Everyone is told how to look and this enforces it even more such as when the thigh gap hashtag started its all anyone would go on about and started people I had never heard complain about their weight and had incredible bodies suddenly become worried that they didn’t have the gap and became obsessed with thinking about what they were eating.” @korriekorrie
“The thinspo one constantly gets used every day I must see at least 10 posts with a hashtag of thinspo on a girl with ribs, no hips and a thigh gap forcing me that that is the way everyone wants to look and nobody will think im attractive unless I look that way.” @korriekorrie
“I have used the hashtags #ana and similar ones to look up other girls on insta and tumblr when i felt bad about myself or to compare myself with them.” @anon
“I have always thought of myself as a mature headstrong person and try not to get influenced by things I am told are right but seeing so many people affected by certain trends does make you start to think and believe that there is a certain way you should look.” @korriekorrie
“I have doubted myself more than a few times after looking at “thinspo” bodies posted everywhere and immediately started a diet” @korriekorrie
“this makes me scared that I myself have doubts about myself just from hashtags, what will a much younger audience take from all this!?” @korriekorrie
“the way people tag self harm has triggered me and a lot of other people as it comes up in trending and could be accidentallyseen.” @georgejanet
“A lot of "ana" related posts and "pro ana" accounts and hashtags are VERY triggering” @lottie_short
“I can't help myself sometimes (I'm better now than I used to be) from looking at these things on Instagram and tumblr etc” @lottie_short
“some of the images surrounding this topic that I have seen have definitely made me stop and think about how these things can influence other people.” @anon
“I would say I am more swayed towards positive influence such as fashion and music that I see people posting but it’s easy to see how younger audiences can so easily become lured into negative sides of them” @korriekorrie
“So many thinspo hashtags have made me question myself and my body as I am far from skinny and have always tried to embrace my curves but after seeing so so many people wanting to look that way I started to doubt myself and lust after a bony body with sticky out ribs and hips and felt as though I wasn’t right at all and was far too fat and became paranoid that everyone was looking at me thinking oh she could lose a few stone.” @korriekorrie
“I fear for my little sister to come across them one day and read them and think it’s great to starve yourself as you will be praised upon it” @korriekorrie
“I was influenced by these hashtags because when I first started self harming at the age of twelve” @_isolxto
“people who are oblivious can quickly adapt to these feelings//way of life and also they're so easy to access so the people who are trying to recover can quickly access them and become ill or even more ill than when they started to recover” @anon
“These hashtags are potentially very harmful as they can trick young people into thinking 'Maybe I should be skinnier'.” @anon
“peope should stop promoting these kinds of things as young people/teenagers get influenced quickly and its very serious towards their health.” @sal.ma_
“It seems anorexia is applauded and seen as fashionable and a trend. Its scary that so many younger minds will grow up in a world of this.” @korriekorrie
“on twitter I saw a "thinspo" and from then it all started I started searching in different hashtags and I started to think like that and I adopted that way of thinking. So I started a new secret twitter where I only followed accounts like that and I became very very ill with self harm and eating disorders which I'm still battling to this day. I am living proof that this happens.” @anon
One post and my inbox was flooded with people wanting to air their view on the subject, ranging from people that have never seen #’s used in this way to those provoked by this debatable trend. Ranging from ages 15-21 this showed me how eager today’s youths are to feel a part of something, similar to how #’s are used as a form of communication, linking people with similar interests together.
It appears that for these people #’s have become a comfort blanket for them, somewhere away from ‘the real world’ where people instead of judging them provide them with false praise that the mental state they are in is ‘trendy’ and through the popularity that they gain this further fuels their disinclination to accept or ask for the help that they need.
“Alot of people are using them because they show some sort of new trend and they try to fit in” @sal.ma_
“the use of these hashtags have become so popular because people with eating disorders, for example, look for 'tips' on starving, purging etc. Also it is sometimes to reach out and talk to others that are going through the same thing.” @_isolxto
“I think it's become popular because some people use it as support and help from people who have similar problems to them” @georgejanet
“it has sadly become the norm and a "trend" for these illnesses to become idolised to such extremes that people may starve themselves or try to commit suicide.” @mollyxxhayward6
“they've become widely popular among unstable teenagers who are insecure and feel alone. Some people put up the hashtags as a sort of safe haven to people who are struggling to let them know that they aren't alone.” @anon
“these hash tags have become so popular because one, hashtags in general are a relatively new thing that connects people and people like being apart of something.” @yunglilvuitton
“it's "in" right now to be depressed. Look at all this #sadgirl #sadboy. That is depression too. This whole idea that crying, sadness or anger is cool is very threatening to our mental health. By making it socially acceptable to hold onto our emotions, it will drive society down a dark path. These emotions are heathy to feel sometimes but it becomes unhealthy when this becomes a life style. And i believe that's when more heavy tags like suicide, cutting and self harm come into play.” @yunglilvuitton
“people can't really talk about their disorders with nondisordered friends. Either because they hide it from them or just because they are uncomfortable talking about it with them. The hashtags give people a way to connect and talk about it openly with other disordered people knowing that they will understand.” @anon
“i think hashtags are more of a way for the disorder to connect rather than the people themselves.” @anon
“Used inappropriately to promote such behaviours” @georgejanet
“It’s crazy to think people dedicate pages to letting people know their weight, ideal weight and that they’re starving themselves and that groups of people are praising for not eating.” @korriekorrie
“it's triggered my eating disorders and self hate” @anon
“I only seem to look at pictures on Tumblr when I find them relatable and so I don't feel like I'm alone” @anon
“I used scissors then a year later I discovered how to remove blades from certain objects by looking at the hashtags” @_isolxto
“I find instagram can sometimes be an extremely ‘triggering’ community because of these hashtags as they often encourage and suggest mental health is something to be proud and ‘show off’ about.” @anon
“so many people can relate to the topics and they feel as though they are helping each other by connecting with one another. However the reality is that a lot of the time they're just fuelling each other with the negativity and triggering posts where people are more often than not in competition with each other.” @lottie_short
“people also use it as a place to draw attention to themselves for the wrong reasons.” @georgejanet
“Its a sick way of finding tips and trick that nobody would give you i real life for your own good.” @anon
“There is lots of pressure for young people do conform, for them to do this and for them to look like that, which I think certainly doesn't help” @anon
“people are genuinely looking for support they feel like they can't ask people they know, they have people who won't judge them but then again people trigger and upset other people.” @georgejanet
“it's mostly people that aren't in the right frame of mind to help others so they end up making each other worse.” @lottie_short
“Even though i look them up now and then ,i do believe the hashtags are harmful. I still consider myself pretty strong mentally so i can only imagine what those posts do to people who are in a darker place and look them up more often. I feel like the community supports the ed, even when most of the blogs say in their description that they're against it.” @anon
“I only ever looked on the pictures to reassure myself that I wasn't alone and they kind of comforted me to know that” @anon
“community is great when you’re recovering and need support realistically they can often bring you down when you see others in worse situations than you. Sometimes the mental health communities on social media can actually stop recovery rather than promote it and being constantly surrounded by these hashtags is only making the situation worse.” @anon
“It's a total call for attention and love, in a completely unhealthy way!!! These poor youth arnt getting attention irl so they are looking for it url. I think it would be amazing for depressed youth to use the internet to help support each other getting happy and healthy. The community needs to stop enabling and dwelling but put more love and positive support for each other.” @yunglilvuitton
CONTRASTING VIEWS ON #
“I have defiantly seen #thinspo. Which I think kinda has the right idea but needs to be reworded I've seen #fitspo, I think that it is heathy to want to be more fit and heathy because you feel better and our happier.” @yunglilvuitton
“So far I have not been influenced directly by the things you are talking about as I am very lucky to have a very supportive and loving family, which I think can definitely influence the way that a young person feels about themselves.” @anon
“some people promote mental illness on things like Instagram as support on how to become 'anorexic' when if posted at all, should be a way to help people overcome it.” @georgejanet
“I find they can also make younger and more impressionable teens accept that they’re the norm when really we shouldn’t be encouraging or showing them as something to aspire to.” @anon
“I have however come across hashtags that unite recovery communities which I believe are far more positive because it unites people who are wanting to get better and this therefore helps other people in a similar situation.” @lottie_short
“I can see why it may be a positive thing in the recuperation process as sometimes support is vital in this stage of getting better, however I think circulating hashtags and images is not the way to create these communities.” @anon
“a whole 'recovery' community has emerged on Instagram especially where people can help each other to get better, although amongst this there are problems. One of these being a problem with the hashtags overall- they create some sort of 'secret club'.” @maddie_bruce
If you yourself or you know of someone that does need support please contact mental health charity mind for help.