University students’ views on the impact of Instagram on mental wellbeing: a qualitative study

Laura Marie Moreton, Sheila Greenfield

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Background: In the UK, undergraduate students are considered highly susceptible to mental ill-health, with current figures indicating a 94% increase in the demand for university counselling services in the last five years alone. Whilst the cause of this increase is currently undetermined, current evidence speculates that social media may be a contributing factor. Recent quantitative literature has determined that Instagram can negatively impact mental wellbeing. However, limited studies have been conducted among undergraduate student students, a population with the highest proportion of Instagram use by age, compared to the general public. Furthermore, no current research has qualitatively explored how and why Instagram has an impact on mental wellbeing. This study therefore aimed to identify UK university students’ understanding of the term ‘mental wellbeing’ and explore university students’ views on the impact of Instagram on their mental wellbeing.

Methods: 16 undergraduate students (56.3% female, mean age 19.8 years, age range 18-23 years) who were fluent in English and used Instagram took part in semi-structured interviews. Participants were excluded if they no longer used Instagram or were unable to give written informed consent. Thematic analysis was utilised to identify codes and themes within the dataset.

Results: Five key themes were identified; knowledge of mental wellbeing, social connectivity, the Instagram ideal, social acceptance through quantitative data and cyberbullying. Students had a basic understanding of the term mental wellbeing and correctly associated productivity and accepting life’s adversities with the term. However, students often misinterpreted happiness and good mental health as a state of wellbeing. Whilst students perceived Instagram as positive for the development and maintenance of friendships, they also believed Instagram negatively impacted their wellbeing through the presentation of ideals, the presence of cyberbullying and the search for social acceptance.

Conclusions: This research reveals multiple implications for Instagram use on the mental wellbeing of undergraduate students. It is therefore essential for university counselling services to address Instagram use in consultations with students. Further research exploring the extent of cyberbullying on Instagram and the effects of presenting an idealistic life on wellbeing is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Number of pages10
JournalBMC psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the BMedSci Population Sciences and Humanities Intercalation programme at the University of Birmingham. Funding was required for costs associated with printing and participant compensation (£10 amazon vouchers per participant).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Instagram
  • university
  • students
  • mental wellbeing
  • qualitative


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