Understanding digital self-harm and its implications for mental health practice
Evidence and practice    

Understanding digital self-harm and its implications for mental health practice

Pras Ramluggun Senior lecturer/researcher, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, England
Myra Small Staff nurse, Maple Ward, St Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To learn about digital self-harm and how it can affect young people

  • To enhance your understanding of the reasons why people may engage in digital self-harm

  • To consider various approaches you could use to support young people who engage in digital self-harm

Self-harm is typically described as physical harm that an individual inflicts on themselves to provide relief from unbearable emotional pain or distress, with a high prevalence among adolescents. In the digital age, some adolescents who self-harm may seek support online and rely on social media platforms to validate their feelings. However, these adolescents can also be subjected to cyberbullying as targets of negative and hurtful online messages. Although some websites may offer support, many of them also contain harmful content that encourages self-harm, which in some cases has resulted in suicide. Over the past few years, there has been an emerging trend in which some adolescents send themselves hurtful messages online, and this has been termed ‘digital self-harm’. This article explores this relatively new form of self-harm and its implications for mental health nursing practice. It also outlines some approaches that mental health nurses can use to support adolescents who engage in digital self-harm.

Mental Health Practice. doi: 10.7748/mhp.2021.e1592

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software




Conflict of interest

None declared

Ramluggun P, Small M (2021) Understanding digital self-harm and its implications for mental health practice. Mental Health Practice. doi: 10.7748/mhp.2021.e1592


The authors would like to thank Mike Anjoyeb, senior lecturer in mental health at Buckingham New University

Published online: 26 October 2021

Want to read more?

Already subscribed? Log in


Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first 3 months

Your subscription package includes:
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals and their archives
  • Customisable dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests
RCN student member? Try Nursing Standard Student

Alternatively, you can purchase access to this article for the next seven days. Buy now