Is Instagram the New Port for Mentally Unhealthy Behavior?

TRIGGER WARNING. I advise you to take caution before reading this. There are photos and material containing heavy content.

It takes a lot to shock me. So when I decided to innocently search for ‘bipolar’ on Instagram, I was shocked at how shocked I became. Photos of girls consisting of skin and bones in their underwear, pictures of sliced and bloody arms and legs, declarations of suicidal desires, the list goes on.

The only way to really express what I’m referring to is to show you. (These images were taken directly and anonymously from Instagram. I do not have ownership rights.)

photo 2 (1) photo 3 photo 1 (2) photo 3 (1)
These images are just a few of many that I saw. All I typed in was ‘bipolar’ with the intention of finding something valuable for this blog, perhaps a quote or whatever. Instead I discovered an entire underground network.

I began to click on various profiles with names similar to ‘anas_helper’, ‘selfharmerr’, and ‘lifeish0peless’. As I read the comment feeds, I saw a true camaraderie between young sufferers. For those battling eating disorders, the support is unbelievable. By support you may be thinking encouragment for recovery. While I’m sure there is positive support on Instagram, that’s not the kind I’m talking about here. On more than one account, I saw users post what seems to be a crest of the eating disorder community.

photoThe picture encourages followers to like it, in exchange for an hour of fasting. It’s sobering to see how many people liked the picture because these people really want this girl to accomplish her goal of not feeding her body. One can only assume that they are just as ill as she is. Other things I noticed were Instagram users giving each other tips on how to hide food so their parents would think they are eating, how to hide a scale in their room, tricks to boost metabolism, and more. These self proclaimed anorexics and bulimics even have weigh ins.

Another community with a heavy influence are those who self injure, specifically those who cut themselves. You find many photos of young folks who have hacked themselves up something awful. It appeared to really be a story of one cutter triggering another. photo 4 (1)

From the various accounts I saw a lot of the same names supporting one another, and thus posting their own bloody pictures. Some of them were suicidal, some were just content with the razor blade release.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the dynamics of self harm, or even eating disorders in this post. This is simply to expose a community of no doubt, thousands of suffering people. This is simply for awareness.

You may be wondering what role Instagram plays in this. I decided to test out a couple of different hashtags to see what came up and here’s what I got whe I typed in “cutting”:

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And here’s what popped up when I typed in “anorexia”:

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I was surprised and glad to see that some advisory is in place for potentially dangerous situations. I also know this is a CYA, otherwise known as ‘cover your ass’ for the company. But I guess it isn’t their responsibility to make sure everyone is safe on an open sharing network. I did not select the ‘learn more’ option, so I can’t say for sure what anyone would be learning, or if it gives help options or what. And it is very easy to just select the ‘show posts’ option anyway, which I did. For shits and giggles, I tested out a few other hashtags, ‘sex’, ‘nude’, and ‘fuck’. For each of these, IG clams there are ‘no tags found’.

I don’t know if any of you already knew of these underground support systems, but it is scary at how uncontrolled an environment this is. I know it is extremely difficult sometimes when dealing with a mental illness. I do. I just found this interesting and wanted to share it with you. Please leave a comment on your thoughts.

Updated March 26, 2014
I’ve received a lot of feedback on this article which has raised some questions.

Why did I write this article? Well, I simply wanted to raise awareness to something very serious that is occurring in social media, in this case, Instagram.

What do I hope to accomplish with this post? The awareness needs to spread to the people who can stop these underground communities. If enough of us are made aware, then real action can occur.

What help can I offer? While this was written as primarily informational, not necessarily clinical, I do want to address these topics of self harm and eating disorders. If you or someone you know is harming themselves, or is suicidal, or is starving, binging/purging, then you or your loved one need to get help right away. Here are some resources that may be useful to you:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Eating Disorder Association

I hope this helps to clear up any confusion. Thank you all for stopping by. I know this is a tough one to swallow. Take care.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2/23 – 3/01

Eating disorders are serious illnesses, not a lifestyle choice. I’m taking this on a different note for a moment, to bring awareness to an important topic. Please join me in Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2014. NEDAWPartner500 I understand this is primarily a bipolar disorder blog, but I believe in overall awareness for mental health issues, and would like to take this opportunity to spread some awareness on the issue of eating disorders. On top of that, somebody very close to me has suffered from an eating disorder, so the topic hits a little close to home.

The Basics
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these are the basic characteristics of some of the most common types of eating disorder:

Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Restricting food intake to below the requirements for a particular individuals physical requirements
  • Intense fear of weight gain and obsession with weight and continual behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Inability to recognize true body shape or recognize the seriousness of condition
  • May or may not use binge eating and/or purging behaviors

Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Eating an unusually large amount of food at one time followed by compensatory behaviors (such as vomiting, taking laxatives and/or excessive exercise) to prevent weight gain
  • A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating occurrence
  • Self-judgment largely based on weight and shape

Binge Eating Disorder:

  • Recurrent situations of eating an unusually large amount of food at one time
  • A feeling of being out of control during the behavior
  • May have feelings of shame or guilt towards eating which can lead to eating alone
  • May eat until the individual is beyond full to the point of discomfort

Note: There are several other types of feeding or eating disorders outlined in the DSM-5. Many people may not have every symptom of a disorder, but may still receive a feeding or eating disorder diagnosis.

Eating disorders – such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder can include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. It can affect women and men of varying ages and backgrounds. Eating disorders can be triggered by familial or genetic factors, media influences, or even trauma. ED’s are very common among athletes and dancers as well. (about.eatingdisorders.com)

Women LearnMalesEDMyths About EDs
These are some common beliefs about eating disorders. Please help to educate others on the realities.

Everyone with an eating disorder is really thin. Although people with anorexia nervosa weigh well below their ideal body weight, this is not true for people with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder: these sufferers may be at or above their ideal weight range.

Eating disorders are a female illness. While most cases tend to be prevalent among females, about 10% of those in the United States with eating disorders are male.

It’s a youth thing. Research has shown that the majority of eating disorders develop during adolescence — a period of rapid physical and social change for most people. It is sometimes assumed that people ‘grow out’ of eating disorders, and they are not an issue once middle age approaches. The truth is, several middle aged women (and men) seek treatment for an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are for white people. It’s no secret that historically, the face of eating disorders belongs to the Caucasian person. But know that the rates of eating disorders all over the world are rising, even in places like China, India, Mexico, and South Africa. Within Western cultures, eating disorders are found in all ethnicities. Note that African American women have lower rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, as it is believed that their cultural body ideal is heavier and more voluptuous. However, they experience the same rates of binge eating disorder as Caucasians.

Eating disorders are caused by dysfunctional families. Recent research has shown that eating disorders develop primarily as a result of biological and genetic causes, in conjunction with social and environmental pressures, which may or may not include familial stress.

Get Involved
Here’s how you can learn more about eating disorders and promote awareness.

NEDA
National Eating Disorder Association
eatingdisorders.about.com
National Institute of Mental Health – Eating Disorders
A Day in the Life of Someone with an Eating Disorder