Why do individuals join online non-suicidal self-injury communities? The link between NSSI, e-communities, and perceived social support
Online communities regarding non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) have become a topic of interest among researchers and mental health professionals. This study examined reasons why individuals who self-injure participate in NSSI e-communities, if their needs are being met by these communities, and if the content being generated and accessed by these individuals maps onto their initial reasons for joining. Further, this study tried to explore the possible link between spending time within the NSSI e-communities and perceived social support and NSSI behaviour. Online questionnaires were administered to 71 individuals who self-injure from different NSSI communities on the Internet. Results indicated that the primary reasons associated with joining online NSSI communities relate to social support (e.g., “To feel less alone”); this was followed by seeking information and then by wanting to help others (i.e., other members of the e-community). Participants reported that the NSSI e-communities fulfilled the needs associated with their reasons for initially seeking out NSSI e-communities. Fulfillment of needs was also significantly correlated with higher levels of perceived online peer support and more time spent online within the e-communities. When online, participants indicated that they typically read and wrote about others’ experiences relating to NSSI and some feelings of isolation. They also engage in NSSI e-communication in order to vent about emotions and specific problems. Time spent online in NSSI e-communities was significantly correlated with higher levels of perceived online peer support, lower levels of perceived family support, and more frequent NSSI. Further research needs to better understand these links and explore the mechanisms responsible for these potential relations.