Instagram’s Controversial Censorship of Mental Health Hashtags

Trigger warning: discussion of self-harm

The following popular hashtags have recently been censored: Mentalhealth, selfharm, depression, suicide, anxiety, eatingdisorder, anorexia, anxorexiarecovery, bulimia, ocd, bpd, depressionmemes, mentalhealthmemes, suicideawareness, and possibly others that I haven’t come across.

The risks of using these hashtags are: you will see not as much engagement with your post, as your potential followers aren’t finding you via hashtags. The other risk is a temporary Shadowban, so proceed with caution. 

Instagram will not show you recent posts with these forbidden hashtags. They will only show you a short page of the trending results for that hashtag after showing a warning notice first (which I show an example of later in this post).

Why Has Instagram Censored These Hashtags?

It is believed that some people are promoting distressing images or people seeing them get triggered to feel worst.  In the case of an eating disorder and self-harm it is thought that there are posts on Instagram encouraging people to do it.  They are concerned about the impressionable younger generation who use Instagram a lot. 

While I understand why this has happened, to me as a mental health blogger and advocate, I am now unable to reach more potential new followers. Not just myself, but also charities that help mental health are affected also. As well as this, I have seen a lot of mental health bloggers who are upset about the ban, mainly with #mentalhealth being caught up in this. 

I Carried Out Some Research

For the sake of research I looked into the self-harm hashtag and the results were mixed. The images were quite graphic, with scars all over people’s arms and one drawing of blood dripping down an arm with an inspirational saying encouraging people not to self-harm. There was a picture of an arm with scars all over it, but next to it were the words ‘3 months clean’, meaning the person had gone 3 months without self-harming. The comments were all supportive. There are photos of before and after tattoos, where the before picture is an arm with healed scars all over it and the next photo is the new tattoo that covers it.

 I also saw an upsetting photo of an arm with the words ‘I Hate Myself’ cut into it. Another photo was of scissors and a knife with the words ‘when these become your best friends when everyone else left you alone’. So as you can see there is a valid reason for trying to censor the results for this hashtag, especially with vulnerable teenagers who regularly use Instagram.

What Support Is Instagram Offering?

If you search or click the hashtags you will now be redirected to a window that asks if Instagram can help. It offers support through 3 different ways. 

If you press ‘get support’ you will see this screen:

  1. Talk to a friend

2. Talk to a helpline volunteer

As I’m in the UK and seeing UK based charities, I presume if you are in another country you will see charities to contact in your own area.

3. Tips and support to help yourself

As you can see, Instagram is making positive steps to help those who might be feeling down.

Finally, If You Are Looking for Examples of Hashtags That Aren’t Banned:

Example list for Eating Disorder hashtags that are allowed. They feature people recovering from the condition, recipes and positive selfies: edrecovery, eatingdisorderrecovery ,edwarrior ,edfighter

Examples list for mental health that are allowed: Mentalhealthawarness, mentalhealthmatters, depressionhelp, mentalillnessawareness, mentalhealthasvocate, anxietysucks, endthestigma, mentalhealthsupport, mentalhealthrecovery, ocdawareness, thereforyou, youmatter, postivementalhealth, anxietyattacks, mentalhealthisreal, mentalhealthcommunity.

What do you think of Instagram censoring hashtags? Let me know in the comments.

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  1. March 24, 2019 / 9:44 pm

    Very interesting post! While I can see how it can be conceived as controversial, I also see it from the viewpoint of Instagram trying to find a way to help those suffering from mental illness who may need help. A sufferer of depression and anxiety myself, I think the more that can be done to help and communicate forms of help the better!

  2. April 3, 2019 / 7:59 am

    I understand why they’re doing it but I’m also not sure it’s the best way of helping.
    I think on social media sometimes these communities can be helpful to get support from strangers, sometimes you don’t necessarily want to talk to friends or a helpline. I understand there’s always negative aspects but I think a better policing of that would be better than a blanket hashtag ban

  3. April 8, 2019 / 11:29 am

    Thank you for sharing! I had no idea #mentalhealth was banned. I can understand Instagram but I also feel like it’s not a good idea to take this online space away from people who want to raise awareness and or find support. I think they should delete the disturbing posts, not the actual hashtags but I believe their intentions were good.

    • Anna
      April 8, 2019 / 9:00 pm

      Yes they should get better at flagging disturbing photos or just show the warning without not showing the recent posts.

  4. April 24, 2019 / 7:28 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this. I just found your pin in Chronic Pinning and boy am I glad! As a health blogger that writes about mental health, I had no idea this was happening and wondered if I was under a shadow ban but couldn’t figure out for the life of me what I was doing wrong. I have very mixed feelings about this. I agree that banning these hashtags hurt some users who are reaching out for help and getting these messages instead, or even worse, not being warned at all that they aren’t being shared (I assume this is happening since I haven’t seen this popup warning and I post almost daily with some of these tags). While I appreciate the efforts they’re making, I think they’re wrong to ban these hashtags and it’s only going to get harder for those of us trying to help people to reach our audience. It’s definitely problematic, despite it’s helpful appearance.

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