Young people scrolling on social media.
Young people scrolling on social media.

Dr Ruth Page (Principal Investigator, University of Birmingham), Dr Michael Larkin (Aston University) and Professor Paul Crawford (University of Nottingham) have been awarded £768k to work with The McPin Foundation and Care for the Family in this new ESRC-funded project.

Knowing how to find and evaluate information about mental health is critical for young people as they navigate life's challenges, especially in the context of social media where there is a wealth of easily accessible information which varies in quality.

Influencers are among the most frequently followed accounts by young people in the UK, with audiences of millions. Mental health is often discussed in the stories that influencers share on social media sites like Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube.

These stories are told in short-form videos which convey mental health experiences in distinct and powerful ways through words, music, images and editing effects. Influencer industry is largely unregulated which means that lay persons and professionals alike can offer information about mental health. Little is known about the quality of the mental health information influencers provide and the impact on young people's knowledge, emotions, attitudes and behaviours.

Our project has set the needs of young people at its heart and we look forward to working with them, key charities and mental health professionals to tackle this important topic.

Dr Ruth Page - Reader in Stylistics and Student Experience Academic Lead for ELAL.

The team will analyse the stories about mental health offered by influencers and work directly with young people to help them develop strategies to evaluate and respond effectively to this communication. 

The research comes at a time when regulation of influencer communication has become a matter of parliamentary concern (see Influencer Culture Inquiry, 2022). There is little consensus about how best to address the risks to and opportunities for young people's mental health in this context. Their research will explore solutions so young people can use social media in a safe and helpful way. By generating knowledge which will be useful to educators, families and groups who support young people's mental health. The analyses will also provide insights to support sensitive and appropriate policy-making around influencers and health communication. The outcomes of our research will be shared with national and international audiences through publications, conferences and workshops.