Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, eating disorders

The cubbyhole in which Andrine (17) has hidden herself is so small she must sit on her knees. From her mobile she posts several entries on her secret Instagram account. Hundreds of Norwegian girls on this hidden network can read her messages about her wish to die.

NRK has investigated the dark network on Instagram. Andrine is just one of the girls connected to it. At least 15 Norwegian girls in this closed group have within a few years taken their own life.

Andrine has for a long period been one of the most active on this site – even into her last hours.

Between her bouts of crying she is hardly aware of the two adults standing outside her cubbyhole. She’d rather concentrate on the network and to get the courage to send what will be a directly transmitted suicide note she writes in one of her last messages on Instagram:

All is checked. Shit Andrine – it is only to do it. DO IT! Don’t give a shit about the disgusting feeling you have in your stomach that does not mean a thing. Stop hesitating. Hell, nobody cares anyway
Comment: ANDRINE NO!! DON’T DO IT!
Comment: Noooo!!!!

(All censorship of the Instagram-postings has, in this story, been made by NRK)

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At last everything is ready, she writes. For nearly 10 months she’s been living in a private child protection institution. On this day the last brick falls into place.

I hear how they look for me. I can’t say anything. (Censured, censured, censured, censured, censured). So when I am ready, I have a clear path. Nobody can stop me now.

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She also sends several text messages to the staffs on duty this late evening in March 2017. Just before 22.30 pm a message where Andrine says goodbye to her mother.

“Tell her that I am sorry for ruining her life. Just tell her that she was the best mother I could ever have had.”

In her room there is also a handwritten note. “Bye and thanks for everything” she writes, ending with a heart.

“Bye and thanks for everything”

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The staffs find out where Andrine is hiding and try to get her to talk. Finally she agrees to unlock the door.

Everything now looks as if it will sort itself out, but on the way down from the 2nd floor, the staffs suddenly hear a sharp thump from the room where Andrine is.

Then everything is quiet.

The staff run upstairs again, but get no response. The emergency centre is being contacted, while the staff try to break in with a crowbar.

Just a few minutes later an ambulance is on site, and the girl is being brought out.

But for Andrine it is too late.

After four days in a respirator in hospital, she dies.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

In the cardboard box

The cardboard box with Andrine’s things has been standing in the hallway for nearly two years. Her mother Heidi got it from the police just a few weeks after her daughter’s suicide.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

After that it has remained there, untouched but never forgotten. Almost every day she looks at it, but is afraid to open it.

Because in the box is the mobile from that evening when Andrine died.

Heidi is afraid there are things on it she actually does not have the strength to see.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

After nearly two years she at last picks up the courage.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

On the mobile there are two Instagram accounts: The normal one she followed herself, but also a completely unknown profile “Sebrapiken”.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

She logs in and feels how nausea is building up.

There she finds a dark and frightening world, full of girls like Andrine.

The hidden network

Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, eating disorders

On a hidden network with private and often anonymous profiles, hundreds of girls suffering from mental illness are meeting. In this secret place they give each other comfort and support, but they also share their darkest thoughts.

But even worse: They are posting pictures and films of serious eating disorders, deep wounds after self-harm, suicide thoughts, attempts and methods.

They often mark the accounts with “TW” or “Trigger Warning” to warn followers of content that may affect them in a bad way.

From Andrine’s mobile, NRK gets access to this secret room. Before she took her own life, she was one of the most active in this enclosed environment. From her hidden Instagram account we find over 1000 users posting depressive content of self-harm and suicide. Nearly 500 of the profiles are Norwegians. A mapping of this environment reveals that in just a few years, at least 15 young girls have taken their own life.

– Immediately after the Easter break this year, a 22-year old in Førde takes her life. Konstanse is also part of this world with several suicide attempts behind her. Before she dies she deletes all her profiles on social media.

– Just a few days before another suicide takes place. Cecilie can fill a whole room with her heart, but only fills a small corner of the sofa, says her friends about her. She is morbidly emaciated and is self-harming. The 20-year old tries several times to take her own life and goes in and out of psychiatric treatment. On the eve of Easter 2019, she kills herself in Larvik.

– Leila Mariell from Vadsø has for a long time struggled with psychiatric problems and self-harm. She has been admitted on a number of occasions and has several times tried to kill herself. On Instagram and Twitter she has a lot of contact with others who also have difficulties. She finds a lot of support in this environment, but can also see that they can make each other more ill. By the followers she is seen as one who helps and support others, but she could not help herself. The 24-year old dies in February 2019.

– In Østfold, a 17-year old girl is together with another girl from the Instagram-group when she takes her own life in May 2018.

– Tine has several hidden profiles and is open about the environment she’s part of. She thinks it is about supporting and helping each other and can perhaps not see how damaging it can be for her and others. The 34–year old struggles heavily with mental disorder, has an eating disorder and is self-harming. Tine takes her own life in October 2017.

– Merete’s great hobby is to sew and knit. She is training to be a child carer, but suffers mentally and has been in and out of institutions for many years. Finally this Haugesund-girl plans her own funeral. In a final letter to her family she writes what is to be inscribed on her grave stone: Faith, hope and love. Merete dies in September 2017 at the age of 29.

– “Dear Mum, I’m writing to say goodbye. Love you so much. We will meet again”. This farewell letter lies in a flat belonging to a 19-year old girl in Bergen. She has just moved in to her own flat, but suffers mentally and injures herself. Her wish to die has been there a long time. She takes her own life in November 2016.

– In Rogaland, a 16-year old girl is admitted for psychiatric treatment. She suffers from eating disorders and serious self-harm. She takes her own life in August 2016.

– Anette is only 15. The girl from Brønnøysund has just got a summer job and wants to buy a motorbike for the money. In a few weeks she is to start an electronics course at college. She kills herself in July 2016.

– In March 2016 Karoline from Bergen dies. The 20-year old shared many difficult thoughts and wishes to take her life in the network on Instagram.

– In February 2016 another girl from Bergen takes her own life. Camilla was only 18 years old. “Rest in peace little friend” the family writes in the obituary.

– In the same month Marthe dies, who was also a part of the network. She was bullied, injures herself and tries to take her own life several times. Marthe was only 16.

– Karianne got peace at last, says an obituary from 2014. She was depressed and did self-harm, but did not share her darkest thoughts with her nearest or in treatment. Within the network she got close friends, but was only 15 years old when she died. Karianne took her own life in Stavanger after having given the followers a warning on Instagram about her plans.

– Eline dies in Bærum summer 2012, 22 years old. Before her suicide she struggled for a long time with self-harm and depressions. She was active on several blogs before she took her own life.

All these girls were under psychiatric treatment or under child care.

They were all depressed or suicidal.

They’re from all over the country and did often not know each other outside the network.

They suffered from eating disorder or self-harm.

Half of them were below the age of 20 when they died.

NRK has within the network seen concrete examples on how methods for self-harm or attempts of suicide, has spread from one member of the group to another. The worse an entry from a girl is, the more attention and care they receive from others.

Andrine

Only five years old, Andrine is bouncing around in her sister’s gym-suit and two years later she turns up, proud and a bit nervous, to her first training session. Throughout her childhood and youth at school, gymnastics is something she really loves, also as an instructor to the younger children.

Andrine grows up just outside the centre of Tromsø together with her mother and nine year older sister. A normal childhood with much care and love, says the mother.

At school she fulfils her duties and does well in most subjects. She has a winning way and lots of friends. She is a ray of sunshine with so much humour and high spirits that she is missed whenever she is away for just one day.

– Andrine was very easy to like. We joked a lot together, even after she became ill. We could say one word wrong, look at each other and then burst out laughing, says Heidi.

Andrine is drawing and painting and likes to potter around the house and her room. She’s got her own style, a bit playful and a bit boyish. When she puts on make-up, it is always soft and discreet. Andrine knows what she is doing.

Outward she appears tough and comfortable, but without anybody knowing it, she has serious psychological problems.

In February 2017, Andrine posts an old picture of herself. It is from a holiday with palm trees and flowers in the background. Andrine is smiling to the camera, dressed in a singlet and shorts.

TB to when I wasn’t sick, but just one who felt life had a few downs but I had been self-harming for nearly a year. The cuts were not particularly deep but I was also «clever» at cutting myself in places that wasn’t showing. Very few knew how I was struggling and that was fine. I was waiting fora n appointment at Bup (Child and Youth Psychiatric Clinic/transl.), but otherwise I was fairly OK.

Soon she begins to cover up herself, as her arms, under her clothes, were covered with scars and wounds.

Trigger warning: Self-harm

The first cuts

Andrine’s first meeting with self-harm was at school. She’s together with a friend when some older girls show their scars. She had never seen anything like it before and in her diary Andrine writes that this is “extremely stupid!”.

At the same time there is something from this happening that sticks.

At 14 Andrine starts to cut herself. It happens after what she herself describes as a “heavy summer holiday”. Hidden from everybody, this self-harming takes place more and more often, while the cuts get deeper and more serious.

She herself describes self-harm as an “adrenalin kick”. A form of mastering that lets her handle evil and destructive thoughts: “It feels like being locked into a room where self-harm is the only emergency exit”, Andrine explains to a psychologist.

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Trigger warning: suicide

The first suicide attempt

In August 2015, Andrine is admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt. The risk of suicide is not overwhelming, according to the doctors, but at the same time they warn of the danger of a repeat and the fact that the girl can “take her own life as an accident.”

After the suicide attempt, Andrine explains that she’s suffered with anxiety for many years. She never feel good enough and is convinced that nobody likes her. She also has great problems with controlling her feelings, especially when life goes against her.

Things that most people see as trivial, can release endless sadness and crises. Self-harm and suicidal thoughts “can be seen in this context”, the report from the hospital says.

There is also another reason why she hurts herself. This Andrine reveals several months later.

The dangerous voice

Andrine is hearing a voice in her head. It suddenly appears and orders her to take her own life.

Together with “the Voice” there is also a small girl. Andrine calls her “Dagny”. A drawing in her diary shows a character that looks like being taken from a horror movie. The eyes are priced out and the mouth sewn together with thick stiches. “The Voice” has done this, and if Andrine doesn’t do as “The Voice” commands, the same thing will happen to her.

In order to ignore “The Voice”, Andrine has to suffer pain, she explains, either by cutting herself or swallowing dangerous objects.

Andrine is now being treated at the hospital. First in conversation therapy and later by medication. After a while she is seen as being well enough to be discharged, but Andrine does not want to go home.

The relationship with the family is very difficult, she feels. Andrine is now so sick that she requires more frequent follow ups than her mother can give her. The contact with her father was broken when she was ten years old, and Andrine feels she’s only a burden that nobody cares about.

She’s kept in hospital. And while her contact with the real world is shrinking, her life on Instagram takes increasingly more time and space.

The hidden account

She calls herself “Sebrapiken”. Probably from a book with the same name about a girl who also injures herself.

Lying on the bathroom floor, thinking of cutting. The only way out now….I can’t do it
Comment: No don’t!
Comment: Don’t!!!! Hold on (heart)

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Just like Andrine, many of the girls on the hidden network seem to be completely normal girls from all over the country, often very young, some as young as 14 years old. They often don’t know each other in real life, only online.

The girls use their own “tribe language” with codes for diagnoses, what type of self-harm they’re into, how many times they have been admitted to hospital or tried to take their own life.

In this Andrine at last finds a place where she doesn’t feel alone. Here she gets support and understanding from others who suffers the same and who understand her situation.

But most of all, she has found a fellowship where sick girls are exchanging negative thoughts and experiences. In a world without adults, they share tips and advice on self-harm and suicide.

Andrine quickly becomes a person that most people know of in this secret environment.

Being transferred to child care

During the next months, Andrine is more or less continuously admitted to several different institutions.

In several places it seems like going well, at least in the beginning. The girl seems positive and happy, she follows her treatment and often shows signs of improvement.

Then comes the down turns, abruptly and worse. Self-harming gets more frequent and takes new forms. Andrine starts to swallow harmful objects and the cuts find new spots on her body.

In February 2016, Andrine’s condition has so seriously deteriorated that she’s transferred to child protection, and in May she moves into a private institution called “Jentespranget”.

Here she remains during the last months of her young life.

A new beginning

Jentespranget is situated at Stord, between Haugesund and Bergen. A department for seriously ill girls. Some often under around the clock supervision.

Andrine gets her own room with two staff members looking after just her.

She’s given a new treatment plan and sees a psychologist regularly. Gradually she begins to think of her future and attends school when she is capable. To keep her thoughts away from evil, the days are filled with activities. Andrine is to be taught to take responsibility for her own life, and has to wash her clothes and keep the house in order.

She starts working out, and as a part of her treatment Andrine begins horse therapy.

But during the summer she suddenly falls into extended, heavy periods. Her thoughts on self-harm and suicide increases, especially in the evenings, according to staff.

Andrine has access to both mobile and internet, also at night. In two months she posts over 1500 entries. She posts private messages several time a day and much of it are images of self-harm and thoughts on taking her own life.

At Jentespranget they notice that she’s very active on the Internet. In a risk assessment the employees write:

“Andrine has on several occasions informed that she wishes to take her own life. She has also written suicidal thoughts on social media, on a closed Instagram profile.”

During her stay Andrine attends several meetings on how damaging this environment can be for her, but she takes no notice.

I and people in charge talk about “self-harming Instagram” (smiling face upside down)

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The staffs have no right to take the mobile away from her, but when they suggest banning it for a period, Andrine uses self-harm as blackmail to keep it.

As Andrine is voluntarily admitted to the institution, the staff has only limited authority to use force against her.

You snitch, you die

As Sebrapiken, Andrine is “safe”. Many users also mark their profiles like this. In this group safe means to follow an unwritten rule that nothing from within the network is to be shown or told to outsiders. There’s a rule of silence and it’s simple: “You snitch, you die!”. If you don’t keep quiet, you can be blocked or closed down by others.

Some say this rule is valid even when there’s a question of life or death for the girls.

But Andrine does not want to follow this rule when somebody is trying to take their own life. Once she called an institution in northern Norway to tell their staffs that one of the girls living there was about to commit suicide.

Contagious behaviour

In August 2016, Andrine experiences online that a close friend from within the Instagram network kills herself. She takes this very hard and is clearly affected by her death. The two following months she is admitted six times after overdoses and other suicide attempts. During this period she has to get nearly 200 stitches.

And so, she is sent to hospital in Bergen. She has suffered severe internal injuries after swallowing dangerous objects and must be operated upon. After surgery, a new suicide attempt happens at the hospital, and Andrine is only a whisker from death.

It frightens me how bad my psyche takes anaesthetics and how peaceful I became today (ended with me sleeping very heavily or being anaesthetised). Every time I become conscious there is always someone holding me down, keeps me tied or holds me back. Always. I cry and shout I want to die. Try to run away etc. It does not happen once, but repeatedly. Perhaps a sure sign I should end this shit.
Comment: I am here for you (hearts)
Comment: So stop it, and never do it again! Hang on to the thought that you really DO NOT want to do this to yourself again (small heart).

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Now Jentespranget asks for help. To the child protection agency in Tromsø they write: “We must, to the best of our ability, keep this girl alive”, but this is difficult with the framework they now have. For a period they employ extra staff to cover Andrine.

The fear of turning 18

Andrine is now only weeks from turning 18. After years as a hot potato in the system, in and out of psychiatric institutions, in and out of meetings on who shall take care of her, this is something she fears more than anything: Having to take care of herself.

Already two years before Andrine dies, a previous entry in a hospital report says that she is especially vulnerable to major changes.

She needs security and stability and we see that her self-harm increases as soon as discharge is being approached. She says she does not see many possibilities in the future, her thoughts regularly return to taking her own life.

At the beginning of 2017, Andrine is, despite her situation, given the decision that she is not guaranteed a place at the institution Jentespranget when she turns 18. This really frightens Andrine, now that she finally has arrived at a place that she really likes.

It frightens me that I actually will kill myself if I miss the offer of a place here. This is not meant as a threat, although I know it can sound like that. But for the first time in ages I begin to show some progress. For the first time I have small rays of light in my life that I love. For the first time I see a bit of hope for myself as well…..if I lose everything now I really have nothing more to hold on to. If I miss it now I am finished…

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Andrine desperately wants a quick decision. She and her mother are attending several meetings with the child protection agency without reaching a final decision. During so-called cooperative meetings about Andrine, nobody can give the girl a clear answer.

The last day

In the morning on the day Andrine dies, the staff perceives her as being very “heavy”. Already before breakfast there’s a text from Andrine saying she’s not feeling good. She feels completely “rock bottom”.

The staff is united in keeping a certain distance. Experience shows that the closer they are to her in these situations, the greater the risk of her hurting herself.

Andrine starts the day in the stables, and after having fed the horses she seems better. At dinner she jokes and plays around with the employees, and in the evening they all go to the cinema.

In the middle of the film the staff gets a call from one of the other girls in the house. She says that Andrine has plans to take her own life later that evening and that she has posted this on Instagram.

Since Andrine seems stable and at ease, their joint decision is to bring it up when they get back home.

On the way from the cinema Andrine posts this image:

Sitting in the car smiling because the film has ended and so has my life.
Comment: No, Andrine!!! (sad face)

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Back at the house Andrine runs upstairs to her room before anybody gets to talk to her. They can hear her cries and suggests a trip to the doctor, but Andrine refuses. She doesn’t want anybody to stop what she has planned.

A while later a text message arrives in which Andrine says thank you for everything. The search for her starts, but on the same evening Andrine’s life is over.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

Poor child of mine! Just to think how hurt she must have been and I did not manage to help, says Andrine’s mother Heidi and puts her daughter’s mobile phone away.

Photo: Patric da Silva Sæther

She wants Andrine’s story to be included and help to reveal this hidden network because it is a dangerous arena, she says.

– This is completely without any filtration. Had Andrine not had this relationship with the Internet, I don’t believe it would have ended as catastrophically as it did.

Just a few weeks after Andrine’s death, the child care agency formally cancels her place at Jentespranget). Ending date for her stay: The day Andrine would have turned 18.

An official report, following Andrine’s suicide, states that the employees at Jentespranget did everything they could in the situation and that the follow up of this girl was defendable.

Epilogue

The day after Andrine’s 18th birthday , Heidi finds an envelope in the letter box at home. It is a thank you letter from the director at Oslo University Hospital.

In the letter it says that Andrine’s organs, after she’d been disconnected from the respirator, have given new life.

– When I came to the part about the children, I just burst into floods of tears. I had really hoped that she would save some children, so it was good to hear, says Heidi and reads the last lines in the letter aloud:

“4 adults and 2 children have been given a new life. I hope this can be a comfort for you and Andrine’s sister to think about. I wish you as good a future as possible and feel with you in your sorrow.”


­This story is based on Andrine’s profile and own notes, journals from the child and youth psychiatrists involved, the child care agency and other public documents connected to her treatment, plus interviews with Andrine’s mother and conversations with those closely involved with the 14 other girls who have died. Their families have accepted the use of pictures and names of these girls.

Neither Jentespranget or the child and youth psychiatrist treating Andrine are willing to be interviewed in this matter.

Children, youth and family agency in Region North and its area director Mr Pål Christian Bergstrøm, writes to NRK:

“This is an extremely serious case. For us it is the worst that can happen. A child dies when under care of child protection. We feel empathy for the mother and other survivors. The employees working with Andrine are also experiencing great sorrow. It is very difficult to be informed that Andrine felt we did not do enough to help her. This case was, however, extremely involved and complex.

Legislation set for the purpose of securing children’s rights can in situations where the children are as ill as Andrine, limit the child care agencies ability to provide the assistance that children need. This case also highlights the demand aid organisations face when this form of social media is used”.


­Trigger Warning

  • – Trigger Warning – TW – is a term used within some closed groups on Instagram. It is to warn against strong pictures, or content, that can release evil thoughts and dangerous actions. Users insert this expression in their biographies to warn others from entering their profiles.
  • – For over one year, NRK has followed a network on Instagram where this expression is frequently used. Young girls, mostly teenagers, discuss suicide and self-harm and share images showing how they have injured themselves.
  • – In this period NRK has identified 15 girls from the network who have taken their own lives. In one case this took place almost like a streaming on Instagram.
  • – This network is little known among professional health carers in Norway. There is also very little research performed in this area.
  • – In a series of articles NRK highlights this dark and hidden network.