The YouTube videos are disturbing -- images of teens with their arms bleeding and scarred where they sliced into themselves with a razor blade or other sharp object; poetry about pain, loneliness and hopelessness.
"My secret is my blade, it is my obsession, it is my dark secret, when I am empty I bleed, when I am sad I bleed, when I have no hope I bleed," reads the text of one such video.
Researchers report this as evidence of an alarming new trend: Teens posting videos on YouTube that depict "cutting," in which troubled adolescents use a razor blade or other sharp object to dig into their skin and draw blood, or other forms of self-injury such as embedding objects under the skin or burning themselves.
By sharing the sometimes graphic images with other vulnerable youths, the videos may make the behavior seem more normal and even prompt some teens to try it, the researchers noted.
"Some individuals who view this, if they are vulnerable and if they are regularly and repeatedly viewing these types of videos, it could be a virtual community in which self-injury could be reinforced and getting help is not always conveyed," said study author Stephen Lewis, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
The study was released online Feb. 21 and will appear in the March print issue of Pediatrics.