When Kendall Jenner teased on social media that she was ready to reveal her "most raw story" yet this year, it sent fans into a spin.

"I'm so proud of my darling for being so brave and vulnerable," her mother Kris Jenner wrote on Instagram, warning people to "prepare to be moved".

Was the world's highest-paid model struggling with her mental health? Was she coming out?

Nope. Turns out she had just signed a new deal with the skin care brand Proactiv and was sharing her "debilitating" struggle with acne to advertise its pimple cream.


The anticlimactic stunt became known as 'sadfishing' — where someone makes exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to attract sympathy, attention and followers — and it's a growing problem for young people, new research shows.

According to Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) — an organisation dedicated to teaching young people about online safety in the United Kingdom — teenagers are increasingly turning to their social media networks for comfort.

But with stunts like Jenner's becoming more prevalent, those with genuine mental health issues who legitimately ask for support online say they're often accused by their friends of just looking for attention.

"Sadfishing is being reported by young people as a growing behavioural trend which they are finding hard to manage," the latest report released by DAUK warned on Tuesday.

"This is a social media phenomenon that emerged after celebrities, such as the American media personality Kendall Jenner, were accused of posting exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and draw people onto their sites.

"DAUK found that young people with genuine mental health issues who legitimately seek support online are nevertheless facing unfair and distressing criticism that they are jumping onto the same publicity bandwagon."

Sadfishing is just one of the many challenges young people face online today. Photo / 123RF (Stock)
Sadfishing is just one of the many challenges young people face online today. Photo / 123RF (Stock)

Charlotte Robertson, the co-founder of DAUK, said while sadfishing was criticised by some for "romanticising" serious mental health problems, it could also be a legitimate way to vent.

"We're concerned about the number of students who are bullied for sadfishing," she said.


According to the research, which involved face-to-face sessions with more than 50,000 school students, when young people are accused of sadfishing, it can further damage their already fragile self-esteem.

"I was feeling really down the other day as I was going through some problems at home. I was on my own so I thought I'd talk about it on Instagram, just letting people know how I was feeling," one Year 7 student reportedly told the researchers.

"I got a lot of people commenting on and liking my post but then some people said I was sadfishing the next day at school for attention. Sharing my feelings online has made me feel worse in some ways, but supported in others," the student said.

Robertson said sadfishing could also leave young people vulnerable to predators online.

"Groomers can use comments expressing a need for emotional support as a platform to connect with young people and gain their trust," she said.

The report pointed to one example where a Year 9 girl started a relationship with someone she'd met online after discussing her depression on social media.

The report warned sadfishing could attract online predators. Photo / 123RF (Stock)
The report warned sadfishing could attract online predators. Photo / 123RF (Stock)

"He responded to her post and built up a connection with her by sharing his similar personal experiences," the report said.

"They had never met face-to-face but fortunately she ended the relationship when she discovered he was much older than he claimed he was and was pressuring her to send him explicit images of herself."

Earlier this week, research released by VicHealth and the Swinburne University of Technology revealed more than half (57 per cent) of young Australians felt lonely sometimes or always.

A quarter felt lonely as often as three or more times a week, according to the survey of 1500 Victorians aged between 12 and 25, while almost half (47 per cent) felt they sometimes or always had no-one to turn to.

"These results highlighted a crucial need to find effective ways in which young people can meaningfully connect with their peers, friends, and their community," the Director of Swinburne's Social Health and Wellbeing Laboratory, Michelle Lim, said.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.