Psychological Implications of Accessing SITB-Related Online Content

Brianna Pastro, Fordham University


Online content related to self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs) is of increasing concern as generations raised on the internet age and as rates of SITBs increase in adolescents and young adults. Previous research on online SITB-related content has provided mixed results, but generally shows that use of this content is associated with a more severe SITB-related presentation, and that use of this content may confer increased SITB-related risk. Contrastingly, some research and lived-experience accounts indicate that this content may increase feelings of community and belongingness for individuals struggling with stigmatized mental health phenomena. However, the research that has been conducted has been cross sectional or longitudinal on the magnitude of months. No research to date has investigated this content using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to understand the momentary effects that this content may have on individuals who engage with it. Therefore, the present study explored whether engagement in SITB-related content was associated with change in suicidality, non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) thoughts, and belongingness. This research also investigated if the valence of SITB-related content (i.e. more negative and SITB-advocating, or more positive and recovery-advocating) is predictive any changes in suicidality, NSSI thoughts, and belongingness that may emerge. Participants (n = 141), recruited online, completed measures related to SITB-related experiences and described their SITB-related digital media use. Participants then completed a one-week EMA study in which they self-initiated short EMA surveys before and after engaging in SITB-related online content. It was hypothesized that use of SITB-related online content would be associated with increases in suicidality, NSSI thoughts, and belongingness and that positive content would predict with more positive outcomes as compared to negative/neutral content. Results indicated decreases in suicidality and NSSI thoughts from pre- to post-use of SITB-related online content, with no change in belongingness. Positive content use was predictive of a greater decrease in NSSI thoughts and a greater increase in belongingness as compared to negative/neutral content. Valence was not predictive of changes in suicidality. Overall, the current study demonstrates that the momentary effects of this type of content may differ from longer-term outcomes. These results may indicate immediate behavioral functionality of use of this type of behavior as associated with regulating NSSI urges and suicidality. The results from this study support the expansion of positive SITB-related content online as potentially beneficial to individuals in the short term, though no data was collected on long-term outcomes.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Pastro, Brianna, "Psychological Implications of Accessing SITB-Related Online Content" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30574812.