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.