Self-harm and Secret Hashtags

Social Media definitely has it’s pros and its cons. One of the upsides, in most instances, is that it can provide a sense of community for people seeking out others with similar circumstances and interests. There are mommy groups, church groups, Star Wars enthusiasts, fashion gurus and LGBTQ communities and every other “group” you can think of on social media. So, it makes sense that there is a darker side to social media communities seeking support from one another.

As parents and schools and many of the social media companies begin to monitor and police kids’ accounts in order to crack down on inappropriate content, our children are getting craftier with what and how they post online. They use secret code words hidden within their posts that let them discreetly share with their community of followers their interests in getting high, making themselves throw up, or cutting themselves.

It may be difficult to understand why a teen would want to share their desire to harm themselves or their eating disorder, but it’s not uncommon. According to Megan A. Moreno, M.D., MPH, who practices adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, it’s so they will feel less alone.

“There’s a lot of shame, a lot of stigma,” she explained to New York Magazine. “And so I think that discovering these online communities can be a huge lightening of your load. You think, ‘I’m not the first person to experience this.'”

Dr. Moreno and three colleagues recently scrutinized hundreds of Instagram posts in order to identify which secret hashtags our kids are using to communicate self-harm most often, then published their findings last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Katie Schumacher,  author and founder of the initiative  “Don’t Press Send” spoke with about how to help parents better monitor their kids’ social media use so they can be on the lookout for any major red flags.

“I have been asked about tracking kids online often by both parents and teachers,” Schumacher explained to “The answer is that it really varies by child and per age. Reviewing the rules and going over guidelines and strategies with your child is a must. Let your child know that you will be monitoring their activities online to make sure that they adhere to them. Once enough time has passed and they have shown that they are responsible/capable then you can slowly give them a little more freedom.”

The following is a list of the top 10 hashtags with hidden meanings that Schumacher advises all parents to get familiar with.

  1. #deb for “depression”
  2. #sue for “suicide”
  3. #ana for “anorexic”
  4. #mia for “bulimia”
  5. #ednos for “eating disorder not otherwise specified”
  6. #thinsp for “thinspo” or “thinspiration”
  7. #borderline for “borderline personality disorder”
  8. #svv for “selbstverletzendes verhalten” or self-harming behavior
  9. #secretsociety123 for a community of people who engage in NSSH, or non-suicidal self harm
  10. #420 for “weed” or “pot,” which can also be represented by the maple leaf emoji, any of the green leaf or tree emojis, the pineapple (a reference to stoner flick Pineapple Express), and the green check mark, as in “Yes, I have or can get some.”

If you see any of these hashtags on your child’s social media accounts, don’t panic. First, go back and see how long ago the hashtag has been used. Try to determine if they are using it to join a conversation or if they are actually taking part in the behavior themselves. If you think there is any chance that your child is in any sort of danger or dealing with mental health issues, talk to them in a non-judgmental, supportive tone. Work with them to get them the medical help that they need and are most likely seeking.

For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.