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YouTube Self-Mutilation Videos Shock Parents, Therapists

Self cutter shows "no more" cut into flesh on YouTube.
Self cutter shows "no more" cut into flesh on YouTube.
Self cutter shows "no more" cut into flesh on YouTube.

(CBS/AP) YouTube is supposed to be the place for piano-playing kittens and college hijinks, but a disturbing new trend - young people cutting into their own flesh - is attracting million of viewers and becoming a growing concern for therapists that treat self mutilators, also known as "cutters."

That's according to a new study published in Pediatrics which analyzed the top 100 most viewed videos showing self injury. Researchers found the top videos had been viewed more than 2.3 million times and often got favorable ratings from viewers. Sixty-four percent showed cutting. The rest showed other types of self mutilation.

Many videos show bloody live enactments or graphic photos of people cutting their arms or legs with razors or other sharp objects, the study found. Many also glamorize self-injury and few videos discourage it, the study authors said.

They also feature haunting music and rich imagery that may attract young self-injurers and trigger the behavior, especially in those who have just started to self-injure, the authors suggest.

Self-injury is most common among young people. Between 14 percent and 24 percent of teens and young adults have engaged in self-injury at least once, said Stephen Lewis, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Guelph in Ontario and study co-author. Cutting is among the most common methods.

"Teenagers are doing it. Mostly women. Ninety-fire, 95 percent of the people that were involved, that they looked at in this study, were women," psychologist and "Early Show" contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein explained to co-anchor Erica Hill Monday. "It goes across genders, across cultures, and really, by 18, usually, is less."

"It is not suicide-intentioned most of the time," Hartstein said. "The aim here is not to kill themselves. Although, because of the severity of their cutting, they might. The aim is really to regulate emotion. So that can be through cutting, burning, picking their skin, picking at wounds, any of those things. But they feel something so intensely that the self-injury actually modulates emotion for them, rather than a healthier coping skill like you and I might have of going running or going to the gym or something like that."

What can parents do? Get online, watch the videos, talk to your child's doctor or therapist, say experts and most importantly, "talk to your kids," says Hartstein. "That's what you've gotta do."

You can find the study abstract here.