Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Exploring the Impact of Social Media on Care Experienced Young People's Self-View and Mental Wellbeing: Implications for Social Media Design and Policy

  Cecily Pepper (2019 cohort)

Social media is a prominent part of many people’s lives; some may even say it is unavoidable. According to research, there are 3.5 billion social media users worldwide (Emarsys, 2019). When focusing on the young people of today termed ‘Generation Z’, Instagram is one of the most used at 73% active users, followed by Snapchat (63%) and YouTube (62%) (Marketing Charts, 2019), and Generation Z have been found to browse social media sites for roughly three hours each day, which is around an hour longer than the average millennial (World Economic Forum, 2019). With young people spending so much time on social media, it is important to research the effects it has on mental health (MH) and wellbeing.

Currently, results around social media’s influence on mental health are mixed and inconsistent (Best, Manktelow & Taylor, 2014). Typically, this research has focused on the general population, whereas this research aims to focus on a group of people who are more vulnerable to mental health issues: looked after young people. Looked after children and adolescents are more susceptible to mental health issues (Richardson & Lelliott, 2003), so it is important to explore how social media impacts upon the mental health of a population who may already be vulnerable to such issues.

This project is focusing on three specific aspects of mental health that contribute to the mental model of the self: self-esteem, self-worth and sense of identity. Aims of the research include: finding out if the effects of social media on self-esteem differ between the general population and looked after adolescents (aged between 11-18 years old); exploring how social media makes looked after adolescents feel about their self-esteem, self-worth and identity; identifying specific features of social media that are beneficial or detrimental to those aspects of mental health; exploring what adolescents know about existing policies around social media and what they think should be considered by the government; and discussing ways in which looked after adolescents may be able to use digital means as a way of self-care, by increasing awareness of digital tools online that could help them navigate social media in a way that is beneficial for their mental health. 

The rife use of personal data in this project is therefore relevant to Horizon's theme of 'Creating Our Lives in Data', as well as the global impact it will hopefully have on offering guidance and insight to several sectors, such as social care, social media designers, policy and mental health professionals, potentially making social media a safer place for those who may be more vulnerable to mental health issues. Due to the vulnerable nature of the participant group, responsible and ethical research will also play a central part in the design and conduct of the research activities. This research has two industry partners: The Andrew and Virginia Rudd Centre for Adoption and Research Practice, and the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. 


Best, P., Manktelow, R. & Taylor, B. (2014). Online communication, social media and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review. Children and Youth Services Review, 41, 27-36. DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2014.03.001

Emarsys (2019). Top 5 Social Media Predictions for 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.emarsys.com/en/resources/blog/top-5-social-media-predictions-2019/ 

Marketing Charts (2019). Why Do Different Generations Use Social Media? Retrieved from: https://www.marketingcharts.com/digital/social-media-110652

Richardson, J. & Lelliott, P. (2003) Mental health of looked after children. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 9(4), 249-256. DOI: 10.1192/apt.9.4.249

World Economic Forum (2019). This graph tells us who’s using social media the most. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/10/social-media-use-by-generation/