Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

'Am I Insta-Worthy?': Exploring How Social Media Affects Looked After Adolescents' Mental Health

  Cecily Pepper (2019 cohort)

Social media is a prominent part of most people’s lives. According to recent statistics, millennials are the most prolific users with 90.4% using social media (Emarketer, 2019). With young people spending so much time on social media, it is important to research the effects it has on mental health. 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: 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; and discussing ways in which looked after adolescents may be able to 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 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 too, responsible and ethical research will play a central part in the design and conduct of the research activities. 


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

Emarketer (2019). Social Media Users, by Generation, 2019 (% of population). Retrieved from: https://www.emarketer.com/Chart/US-Social-Media-Users-by-Generation-2019-of-population/226029

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