A guide for parents, carers and family members
This information is for parents, caregivers and family members who are supporting a loved one with their online use in relation to self-harm and suicide. It was co-developed with our online harms panel of lived experience advisors. It covers guidance on understanding the benefits and risks of online use, how to talk to your child about their online activity and how to direct them to safe spaces for support.
We know talking about this isn’t always easy and we want to help you feel more comfortable having conversations and making decisions that are right for you and your family.
What do we mean by self-harm and suicide content?
Self-harm and suicide content can take many forms such as:
- online groups and chats
- people sharing their personal experiences
- images, videos and livestreams relating to self-harm and suicide
- online memorials for people who have died by suicide
- feeds discussing recent events, research or awareness raising campaigns
- online information about methods of harm
- hoaxes and challenges relating to self-harm and suicide.
It can be found across a range of sites including social media sites, online forums, instant messaging apps, online retailers, factual sites and gaming sites.
To find out more about the different types of content and why individuals might engage with them, see our factsheet ‘Understanding self-harm and suicide content’.
Supporting someone experiencing self-harm or suicidal feelings can be hard. Remind yourself that you’re doing a good job and this isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s really important to look after your own wellbeing and seek extra support from people around you. Young Minds has information and a helpline for parents and carers. You may also find it helpful to talk to other parents for support and suggestions.
Positive uses of the internet in relation to self-harm and suicide
Finding information and support
Lots of people go online to explore their feelings, ask questions and learn about what they’re experiencing and how to look after themselves. It can also be a first step towards opening up to the people around them and finding more formal support services.
Connecting with others with similar experiences
Connecting with others going through similar experiences can help people feel understood and give them hope. Writing things down or sharing content online can also feel easier than talking face to face. Younger people may feel more able to trust their peers and act on their advice.
Sharing experiences of hope and recovery
As well as reading stories of hope and recovery, people may use the internet to share their own journey. This can provide validation, help them make sense of their experiences and give them a chance to support others, which can be really empowering.
Reducing loneliness and isolation
It can help people to know they have friends, information and a support community online. This can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially if they are struggling with difficult feelings and ideas.
Risks associated with self-harm and suicide content online
Viewing or sharing content that promotes self-harm or suicide
Content that portrays self-harm and suicide in positive ways can make these behaviours seem more appealing. There is some evidence that young people may be more susceptible to trying self-harm or suicidal behaviours they see online because they over-identify with the people posting this content. This is called social contagion.
Accessing information about methods of harm or means of concealment
This includes sharing details or instructions around methods of harm, suggested equipment and comparisons of the effectiveness of different methods. It can also include discussions on how to hide damage to the body, which may prevent people from getting the support they need.
Viewing graphic descriptions of self-harm or suicide
This can be very distressing and over time it can make the behaviours feel like a normal way to cope with difficult emotions or life events.
Engaging in digital or cyber self-harm
Some people may encourage others to bully themselves online (sometimes called ‘roasting’) or post hurtful things about themselves. This can be a form of digital self-harm and is sometimes used as a way of managing difficult emotions and low self-esteem.
Seeing more harmful content than intended
Many sites use algorithms to decide what content people see. This means that you might see things that you didn’t search for or be shown similar content to things you have liked in the past. Sometimes it can be hard to realise the impact that this recommended content has on the way you feel or act.
Signs to look out for
There are not always clear signs that someone is using the internet in a harmful way but here are some things to watch out for:
- Spending more time online than they normally do.
- Relying more on friendships that have developed online for support rather than family and friends offline.
- A change in how much they talk about their online activities – either more or less.
- Talking about their online activities in a new or different way or using new internet related language.
- Having multiple accounts (including private or anonymous) on the same site to share experiences of self-harm and suicide.
Helping your child stay safe online
What can I do?
- Help them understand the benefits and risks. Although your child may know about different sites and technologies, they may be less aware of the benefits and risks (to them or to others).
- Help them manage what they see online. Remind them they can unfollow, mute, hide or block content that they find unhelpful. Encourage them to fill their feeds with positive content.
- Check they know how to report content that worries them. If they see anything online that worries them encourage them to speak to someone they trust and report the content to the site. See our guidance on reporting content for further information.
- Help them look after themselves. Suggest they take a break from their device if what they are seeing online is affecting how they feel.
- Help them post safely. See our top tips about sharing your experiences of self-harm and suicide online for more information.
- Direct them to safer online spaces to find support. If they want to explore options for support online, you could suggest:
- Side by Side from Mind is an online peer support community for over 18s.
- Mind also have lots of online information about mental health and support options.
- Togetherall (formerly Big White Wall) – online community accessible 24/7.
- Shout is a free text support service available 24 hours a day. You can start a conversation by simply texting ‘Shout’ to 85258.
- Samaritans' self-help app to help keep track of how you’re feeling and for recommendations on things you can do to help you cope.
- The Mix offer support for people under 25 years old via discussion boards, online chat and online counselling.
- Kooth is an online mental wellbeing community for young people where you can find online support and counselling.
- Alumina (previously Self Harm UK) provides a free 7-week online course for young people aged 11-19 years old experiencing self-harm.
- Encourage them to reach out to other available support. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, remind them of other trusted adults or online and offline services who can support them, such as their GP or local support services. To explore support in your local area, visit the Hub of Hope website.
Talking to your child about self-harm and suicide content online
How should I approach a conversation?
- Talk about it regularly. Young people might worry that you won’t understand, will take their devices away or force them to seek further help. Talking about it regularly can help them feel less embarrassed and secretive about it.
- Use everyday opportunities. Talk about TV, films, books or news stories about the subject. Conversations that happen when people are sitting side-by-side (for example, on a walk or on the sofa) in a relaxed and neutral space can feel less pressured. Keeping conversations short can stop them being overwhelming.
- Let them talk. Ask them to tell you about the sites they use and what they like to do online. Don’t worry about knowing anything about the internet. Let them share what they know with you, making them feel empowered and knowledgeable.
- Make sure you’re genuinely listening. Focus on trying to hear what they are saying and understanding their feelings.
- Ask open questions. Ask questions that don’t just have ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and give them time to respond. Don’t rush in with responses. Sitting in silence in may prompt them to open up further.
- Take your time when responding. They may say something that makes you feel angry, scared or worried. This might affect your reaction and make them less likely to talk to you again. Give yourself time to stay calm and think things through.
- Don’t force things. If they aren’t ready to talk, don’t give up. Keep offering opportunities for them to reach out. Try encouraging them to speak to other trusted adults, formal support services, or the safer online spaces listed above.
What could I ask?
These questions can help you and your child think about their online use.
- What are your favourite things to do online?
- What sites do you like to look at? How do they make you feel?
- What kind of accounts do you like to follow on Instagram/TikTok etc? Why? What kind of things do they post?
- Do you feel better or worse after seeing that or is it hard to tell?
- Have you come across anything that has made you feel uncomfortable or upset? What would you do if you did?
- Who would you tell if you were worried about what someone was doing or saying online?
- How do you know when you need to take a break or spend some time offline?
- Is there anything online that makes you feel more positive or hopeful?
If you know your child has self-harmed or has suicidal feelings it might also help to ask more detailed questions.
- How do you think the things that you do online affects how you feel about harming yourself?
- How does posting about your feelings/your mental health make you feel?
- How does reading about other people’s experiences of self-harm or suicide make you feel?
What if I find out they are looking at harmful content?
If you are worried about the content your loved one is viewing, it can help to follow the tips above and have regular conversations about online use.
You can also report any content that you have seen that worries you. See our guidance on reporting content for more information.
If it is a young person, you might consider reducing access to the internet as an extra step, however, this is a complex decision and should be made together where possible. Some people may feel relieved if their access to the internet is removed but many might see it as a punishment, increasing feelings of isolation and limiting their access to what might feel like their only source of support.
What tools are available to help me?
If you are supporting a young person, you might choose to use online tools and settings to control the time they spend online at home and what they see. What will work for you and your family will depend on the age of your child and their ability to use technology to get around the controls.
Internet Matters provides detailed free guides on the controls and settings for different social media platforms, devices, search engines, entertainment devices and gaming.
Although these tools and controls can be an important part of your approach, they are unlikely to be enough on their own. Building trust through open conversations about staying safe online will help make sure they know where to go for help if they need it.
What is being done about harmful content online?
Samaritans are working in collaboration with government and technology platforms to reduce access to harmful content and promote more opportunities for support online for vulnerable users. See our page on the Online Excellence Programme for more information.
The UK government are also currently bringing in new laws (called the Online Safety Bill) to make the online environment safer. This will mean that online platforms where users can post their own content will be held to account for hosting harmful content. To find out more and get involved, see our page on campaigning for a safer internet.
More helpful resources
- #chatsafe provide further guidance for parents on how to talk about internet use around suicide and self-harm with the young people in their lives.
- Internet Matters provides detailed free guides on the controls and settings for different social media platforms, devices, search engines, entertainment devices and gaming.