Just another normal night on Twitter took a sharp turn when the hashtag “Cut4Bieber” started trending on the social network. What may have started as some thoughtless practical joke actually touches on the more complicated subject of self-harm, mental illness and the confusing social stigma that has developed around it.
On Jan. 7, 2013, users of imageboard website 4chan.org attempted to popularize the idea of teenage girls harming themselves as a message to the star Justin Bieber so he would stop smoking marijuana. Although the images alongside it were fabricated and not actually made in order to protest Bieber’s actions, there is a deeper level of trouble the rapid spread of this trending topic may have caused.
Paly students should be more educated and sensitive when it comes to issues such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm. It is important for students, teachers and administrators to realize that these occur regularly.
For example, 20 percent of teenagers will experience depression before they reach adulthood. So if 2000 students go to Paly, then 400 students at Paly have been or will be depressed during their teenage years.
In Palo Alto especially, our community should be more aware of teen depression because of the large suicide record over the past few years. According to teendepression.org, 90 percent of people who attempt to commit suicide have some sort of mental illness. These illnesses include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug addiction.
It is important to remember that mental illnesses are, as their name implies, illnesses. Just like a physical ailment, a mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder is not something that someone can “just snap out of” but instead deserves treatment. Likewise, self-harm and eating disorders that stem from these conditions often require medical treatment, usually therapy and sometimes prescribed medicine.
It is very easy and simple for teens to receive help around and outside of campus. Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) at Paly is very helpful for teens who are depressed or simply want to talk to someone. Any student can use ACS because it is free and there are no requirements. If a student wants to make regular appointments with ACS, they only need a parent signature to continue visits. If ACS is not the right fit, then students can be referred to psychologists and psychiatrists.
The deeper problem regarding illnesses is the stigma attached to these illnesses that many regular teenagers experience. The recent “Cut for Bieber,” trend illustrates the lack of sympathy, sensitivity and simple understanding of so many teenagers’ harsh realities such as cutting and depression.
Not only is it cruel for people to turn self-harm into a practical joke, but there are serious repercussions that can occur from posting pictures of cuts or other self-inflicted injuries.
Teenagers coping with mental illness or self-harm are susceptible to relapse, which is caused by a mix of strong emotions and feelings according to mayoclinic.com and images that depict harm and self- mutilation can therefore trigger further self- inflicted pain. Therefore, the rapid spread of self- harm images on such a widespread social media site such as Twitter or Facebook had the potential to reach many of possibly mentally ill people in a short amount of time, even without the potential victims having to search for triggering images.
There is no quick solution to the problems surrounding self-harm and mental illness. It is not possible to censor the Internet from potentially harming images, or keeping a joke about self-harm from spreading like wildfire.
However, it is possible to educate people about the detrimental effects of poor teen mental health. There are many teenagers suffering from mental illness and depression, and these people should be able to live and go to school in a safe environment where others surrounding them are not so insensitive toward these very real issues.
If students took the initiative to become more accepting and supportive, rather than ignoring or being insensitive towards suffering teens, then that would create a better environment for teens and create more happiness on the Paly campus.