1. This qualitative study evaluated post-secondary students’ perceptions on how the social media platform, Instagram, influences their mental health.
2. Students reported that Instagram helped them develop social relationship, but negatively impacted their emotional wellness.
Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)
The incidence of mental illness is highest in adolescents and young adults. Additionally, many students entering university must cope with the pressures of a new social environment combined with separation from their usual support systems. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, can assist students in building social connects, but may adversely impact emotional wellbeing. Social media apps may build false expectations and aesthetic standards for young adults, creating feelings of inadequacy or anxiety.
A qualitative analysis was conducted on interview data collected from post-secondary students on their perceptions of Instagram. Undergraduate students were included who were studying at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, fluent in English, and used Instagram. Students who discontinued Instagram use or who were unable to give informed consent were excluded. Interview transcripts were assessed using thematic analysis focused on mental wellbeing.
A total of 16 students were included in the study, of which 56% were female, and the mean age was 19.8 years. The main themes identified during the interviews were mental wellbeing, social connectivity, idealization, social approval, and online bullying. Students demonstrated an understanding of the concept of mental wellbeing and that they felt it improved their social relationships. Students also felt that the standards for lifestyle and appearance on Instagram created pressure on them which negatively impacted their perception of themselves. Similarly, interviewees also felt that social media created a platform for increased cyberbullying and susceptibility to negative interactions or judgements. The major limitation of this study was that students were only recruited from a single institution and no control group was included. Thus, the generalizability of the results may be limited. In summary, Instagram may help students create larger social circles, but has the potential to decrease confidence and mental health.
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