MENTAL HEALTH charities and experts are warning young teenage girls about the dangers of social media after fans pictured themselves cutting their wrists upon hearing pop star Zayn Malik had left One Direction.
Millions of teens were left distraught when the British-Pakistani singer left the “biggest boyband on the planet” due to “stress”. Malik said he wanted to be a “normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight”.
Facebook and Twitter were flooded by supporters imploring Malik to return to the group, with his shock departure sparking more than 4,600 tweets a minute.
What has shocked charities, however, is the “cut4Zayn” hashtag which began trending. It shows graphic images of girls with bloody wrists – with some saying “the faster you cut your wrists, the faster Zayn will come back…”
Dinesh Bhugra, president of the World Psychiatry Association, told Eastern Eye that the reaction from Malik’s fans “is not something new”.
“For centuries, people have had heroes whom they have followed in total denial that heroes have other aspects of their lives,” he explained.
He said what was unusual about this incident was the strength of feelings the teenage girls had about their idol and how “very strongly” it was influenced by the power of social media.
“The response of Malik’s fans is not unusual, but [it is] worrying, because it has a strong element of self-harm. There have been similar instances from India where young women married the photograph of (the late Bollywood) superstar Rajesh Khanna and many women were distraught when he got married. Suicidal acts following the death of film stars in south India are well known.
“What has changed is the speed with which messages get around the globe. Vulnerable teenagers feel that in order to belong to an in-group, even if it is a cyber group, they have to respond to the challenges and changes in the culture.
“The 24-hour media coverage and news cycles saturate the individual consciousness about what’s happening to their heroes. The teenage crush is well known and well described, and in some ways this crush is about self- validation.”
Bhugra added it was “highly unlikely” that these girls have mental health problems”, but the degree of emotional distress can cause borders between “the self and others to break down”.
“Parents, teachers and siblings, on the one hand, and society on the other, have a moral dilemma to resolve, which is about how we get our vulnerable children to be clear about boundaries of the self and how we train them to develop self-validation and self-esteem.”
Dr Raj Persaud, consultant psychiatrist at a Harley Street clinic, said the “idolisation” of pop stars “is a real teenage phenomenon”.
“As a teenager you idolise people,” he told EE. “You can think they have no Achilles’ heel or a deficit at all. As you become an adult, you realise everyone’s got deficits or problems.”
He said news of young girls cutting themselves in competition to express how intensely they loved Malik was “very serious”.
“If people are cutting themselves that is quite a serious thing, because it’s drawing other people who are not self-harmers, into that world and that can be a very unhelpful place to be.”
A spokesperson from mental health charity Mind said it is “vital to recognise the huge dangers created by any site or social media trend that promotes self-harm”.
“Self-harm is an incredibly serious problem and should never be trivialised. We urge those using Twitter or other social media sites at this time not to engage with posts that promote harm ful behaviour,” the statement said. Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, encouraged people to understand and empathise with distressed fans.
She said: “This not just about the young people who may have ‘fallen in love’ with Zayn. One Direction might be a positive thing in the lives of many others.
“Lots of people have pop stars, celebrities or actors who they hold in high esteem, and there is a lot of sadness and impact for people when something happens to any of them.
“So for a young person who maybe spends time in their room listening to One Direction and forgetting about their worries, to lose that could have a devastating effect.”