Key people: Dr Anna Lavis
There is global concern about the potentially detrimental impact of social media on young people’s mental health. Against this background, calls for online technology providers to enhance safeguarding have particularly emphasised the dangers of self-harm and suicide content. This has been framed as encouraging or even causing acts such as self-cutting and burning, and completed suicide.
In tandem, since the UK’s lockdown in March 2020, there has been a growing awareness of the mental health impact of COVID-19 and the ensuing social restrictions. To date, however, these discussions have not included an attention to social media. This is a crucial part of assessing the impact of COVID-19 on self-harm and suicidality in the UK, especially amongst young people. Social media offers insights that go beyond the linearity of an assumed trajectory from lockdown to rising rates of poor mental health and suicide. Instead, it offers real-time and nuanced understandings of why, and importantly when, suicidal acts and self-injurious behaviour may rise, showing their complex relationships with the current situation.
Against the background of our previous Welllcome-funded research, we are therefore analysing the impact of COVID-19 on online self-harm and suicide content, through funding from Samaritans. Using online ethnography, we are collecting data across a range of social media platforms, from January 2020 onwards. This research will provide rapid results that will be of use to policymakers, practitioners and the third sector as we move through and beyond the current pandemic.