Mental health

At a glance

Social media, smartphone use and self-harm in young people

Lead researcher

Dr Rina Dutta


King's College London



Amount awarded


Last updated



Self-harm is a major public health problem, with more than one in 10 young people in the UK thought to have self-harmed.

The reasons behind self-harm are complex, and there is some evidence to suggest a link between self-harm and the impact of social media on mental health.

Dr Rina Dutta’s research will study the mechanisms of social media and smartphone use that underpin self-harm in young people. For instance, whether it's excessive use, night-time use (and the associated impact on sleep), cyberbullying or a combination of factors that increase risk of self-harm. The researchers are also interested in the ways in which social media and smartphone use may change in the time leading up to a self-harm episode. They will also investigate how self-harm is related to smartphone addiction, sleep quality, depression, anxiety, loneliness and bullying over a one-year follow-up period.

A better understanding of these factors will help with predicting future episodes of self-harm, and developing targeted interventions.

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Mental health - Eating disorders and self-harm

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Despite an increase in young people affected by eating disorders and self-harm, there is still limited research focusing on what causes these devastating mental health problems. As many as one in six teenagers have self-harmed at some point, and self-harm is the strongest known risk factor for suicide. Eating disorders are also common, affecting around 15 per cent of young women and over three per cent of young men.

    Although up to half of people with an eating disorder have self-harmed, we also know little about why these mental health problems often occur together.

    Building on a previous £1.3 million investment in eating disorders and self-harm research by the Foundation and the MRC (part of UK Research and Innovation), these new research projects will improve our understanding of what causes these conditions and ultimately, it is hoped these insights will lead to earlier intervention and better treatments.

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