The Butterfly Project is one of the most unusual and successful mental health initiatives online

Aimed at young people who cut themselves or otherwise self-harm to deal with mental distress, it was created as a Tumblr blog by a sufferer who wanted to help others.

The idea is explained by 18-year-old Jade Bourne: “You draw a beautiful butterfly on your arm and you are not allowed to wash it off or it will kill the butterfly.

“If you cut, it ‘kills' the butterfly but if you wait for it to fade away you get a sense of achievement. By the time it fades the urge to self-harm may have gone or at least it helps you go longer and longer between episodes.”

Having had periods of self-harm herself, Jade knows, she says. She now has two permanently inked butterfly tattoos, one on each arm.”It really helped me,” she adds.


Young people taking part can post pictures of their butterflies on Tumblr or Instagram, and the effect is more powerful if a friend draws your butterfly, giving them an emotional connection to its welfare too, Jade adds.

Pointing the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Project 99 team in the direction of ideas like this was a key role played by young people like from the Big ShoutER initiative in East Renfrewshire. They also came up with a button wall to provide a friendly gateway to other sources of support and a Cat Butler, a character who they hope will help young people translate difficult emotions into something they can share with adults. “You can't be sad looking at a picture of a cat,” says 18-year-old Emma Alford. “Cats just make people happy.”

Tamara Reynolds, 16, who has a family member affected by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, wanted better resources on unusual conditions, particularly for schools. She says mental health is a difficult topic teachers still tend to shy away from. “I would really like there to be more information about different conditions and how to deal with it if you or a family member or a friend is affected,” she says.

Education is needed for young people themselves, Jade claims, about becoming an online bully, which she say some people do without realising. “They don't realise the impact it has. It takes a second to type ‘you are really ugly and I hate you'. People would never say that if they could see the person's reaction. But online it is up so quickly. It is there in a split second, and the person it is aimed at can read it over and over again.”



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