Rising rates of self-harm among young Australians have sparked warnings that social media use is partly to blame.

7.30 has investigated the link between websites such as Tumblr and self-harm among teenage girls, amid reports of a significant increase in cases.

Self-image support group The Butterfly Foundation says its helpline has been under growing demand in recent years.

Calls for help rose by 200 per cent in each of the past two years, and reports of self-harm increased by 25 per cent this year.

Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan says the resort to self-harm suggests many Australians are crippled by emotional pain.

"It's definitely not attention-seeking behaviour, it's not somebody saying, 'hey look at me'," she said.

"Turn that on its head, it's actually about a young person who is experiencing a great deal of pain and there's an enormous build up in them to the point where they say, 'how do I cope with this pain, where do I go with it', and that act of self-harm is almost an attempt to alleviate that."

Isabella Mitchell, 17, suffered depression and eating disorders until last year, triggered by a severe case of bullying at school.

"At first it was more anorexic, I guess. I would starve myself and restrict my food intake," she said.

"Then it sort of turned more into bulimia because I'd start binging and that would become really addictive, the over-eating and then purging because of that and then it turned into anything that I ate I would purge - even if it was an apple," she said.

She soon started to self-harm, and now has many scars on her thighs and arms.

"Because I was in so much emotional pain, giving myself physical pain would take that away a bit," Isabella said.

"At first it was, I guess, maybe once a week, and then it was every day. When it was most severe I'd be doing it once, maybe twice a day, sometimes more."

The teenager kept the self-harm a secret from her parents, but they found out the first time Isabella was admitted to hospital.

"It was horrible," Isabella's mother Sara Hendy-Pooley said.

"We were just on this rollercoaster after that, she was admitted to the adolescent psych unit for four days and then it was a round of watching and not sleeping, my husband playing tag team, getting up in the middle of the night checking she was still alive, that sort of thing."

Throughout the crisis, Isabella Mitchell says she used the blogging site Tumblr.

The website allows users to blog about their lives and upload photos.

Many sites include graphic pictures of self-harm, including the cutting arms and legs with razor blades.

"It's a really big subculture of that, on Tumblr especially, the self-harming websites and taking photos of themselves and all that. That's where I learnt a lot of ways to do it," Isabella said.

"I think it's as dangerous as the pro-anorexia websites because you've got this whole community of people suffering from this really dangerous disorder, and you just get consumed by it.

"Sometimes I'd be cutting just so I could have a photo to put up there and I know that was really common. Now that I look back at it, it was just like, 'how could I be doing that?'"

Her mother agrees the online trend is dangerous.

"They feed them, like Isabella has said, sometimes she'd just cut just to put a photo on," Ms Hendy-Pooley said.

"They give them hints how to hide it, they encourage it, they really do, that's what they do, they encourage it and it's a really dark side of the web."

Isabella Mitchell has set up her own website to help others - .

Caitlin Smith is another teenager who has used sites such as Tumblr during periods of self-harm.

"I think it probably does more harm than good, sharing those photos," the 18-year-old said.

"I know from experience when I see a photo like that it does tempt me and it is a battle inside my head whether I should do it."

Caitlin is now recovering after a bout of depression during which she cut herself every day. She also tried to commit suicide.

"I started cutting more and more and it would get deeper and deeper and I would get more numb towards it," she said.

Now, she has made and says the internet can be helpful for people considering self-harm.

"I know that there's other people out there that have suffered the same thing as me and I thought social media was the best way to go around getting it out there and letting people see that they're not the only one," she said.

Mental health professionals want to harness the good in social media, to help people suffering depression and self-harm.

Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan says the medium is not to blame.

"I think one of the things we have to absolutely accept is it's not the fault of social media," she said.

"Social media is a channel, it is in a sense a barometer, but it's also a channel, a channel of communication.

"We need to embrace the fact that's what they want to do and actually try to substitute positive messages from each other, positive comments about each other rather than negative."

Professor Ian Hickie, from Sydney University's Brain and Mind Research Institute, says professionals are grappling with the impact of technology.

"The more that young people talk, show pictures, share this information, there's a justifiable concern that in some ways this might increase the behaviour and so that's one of the really big issues with the new technologies that we have," he said.

He too wants to use social media to help Australians who self-harm.

"For those of us working in this field, we see the opportunity in social media to have the discussion and potentially help moderate the behaviour rather than simply seeing it as a way of making everything worse," he said.

Professor Hickie is part of a trial of new technology to research the causes of depression.

The nation's leading youth mental health bodies are coordinating the trial, which involves 1,000 people wearing biometric watches that gauge their movements and sleeping patterns.

The information will then be used to assess the links between the patient's nervous system and their mood.

"We are now moving into the world of virtual clinics, of not necessarily having to come and see a counsellor or a doctor or a therapist but increasingly being able to manage your own mental health problems by being able to monitor what is actually happening to you - your nervous system, your sleep-wake cycle, your body clock - and integrate that with psychological information to get better care," Professor Hickie said.

Professor Hickie says self-harm incidents are increasing.

He says a quarter of all teenagers develop serious mental health problems. Of those, he says one in 10 experience thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation.

However, he says figures on actual rates of self-harm are difficult to determine.

Mental health body Headspace says evidence from Australian studies suggests that 6 to 7 per cent of Australian youth aged 15-24 years engage in self-harm in any 12-month period.

, with 24 per cent of females and 18 per cent of males aged 20-24 and 17 per cent of females and 12 per cent of males aged 15-19 reporting self-harming at some point in their life.

"What we've seen in recent times is an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital because of the seriousness of self-harm," Professor Hickie said.

"So repeated self-harm, self-harm resulting in considerable injury is on the rise in Australia."

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