Examining the relationship between the use of a mobile peer-support app and self-injury outcomes: longitudinal mixed methods study

Kaylee Payne Kruzan*, Janis Whitlock, Natalya N. Bazarova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Many individuals who self-injure seek support and information through online communities and mobile peer-support apps. Although researchers have identified risks and benefits of participation, empirical work linking participation in these web-based spaces to self-injury behaviors and thoughts is limited. Objective: This study aims to investigate the relationship between behavioral and linguistic traces on a mobile peer support app and self-injury outcomes. Methods: Natural use data and web-based surveys (N=697) assessing self-injury outcomes were collected from 268 users (aged 13-38 years; median 19; 149/268, 55.6% female) of a mobile peer-support app for 4 months. Participants were identified as having posted self-injury content using an internal classifier. Natural log data was used to predict self-injury outcomes in a series of multilevel logistic and linear regressions. Results: Greater engagement on a mobile peer-support app was associated with a decreased likelihood of self-injury thoughts (odds ratio [OR] 0.25, 95% CI 0.09-0.73) and fewer intentions to self-injure (b=−0.37, SE 0.09), whereas posting triggering content was associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in behaviors (OR 5.37, 95% CI 1.25-23.05) and having self-injury thoughts (OR 17.87, 95% CI 1.64-194.15). Moreover, viewing triggering content was related to both a greater ability to resist (b=1.39, SE 0.66) and a greater intention to self-injure (b=1.50, SE 0.06). Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to connect naturally occurring log data to survey data assessing self-injury outcomes over time. This work provides empirical support for the relationship between participation in online forums and self-injury outcomes, and it articulates mechanisms contributing to this relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere21854
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • MHealth
  • Mobile apps
  • Peer support
  • Self-injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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