Mental Health and Social Media Usage: a Call for Policy and Practice Change

Scarlet Hunt, a final year student, has been undertaking a final year research project around the impacts of social media with young people. She has particularly been looking into the mental impacts of utilising social media. 

New proposals and guidance from the British government for legislation concerning social media usage are welcomed as a mechanism to protect Children and young people, especially concerning protecting young people from on-line bullying and grooming.  However, there are some social media behaviours that impact upon mental health that are not about the illegal; policies and legislation won’t change the situation, but education and support can elevate social stress and reduce immature and anti-social behaviours.

Scarlet Hunt, one of our undergraduate students, recently undertook her final year project by connecting with the Lead Commisioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health and local charitable organisation, Mind, to design a research project that could be used for service development and improvement concerning young people’s mental health and social media usage.

” It was evident that young people were using social media all the time.” – Scarlet Hunt conducted research about social media usage and mental health for her final-year research project.

Who did you conduct the research with?

“In order to look into the topic, I conducted focus group interviews within a high school setting. Four interviews, with four separate focus groups of students:  Boys from year 8, girls from year 8, boys from 10, girls from year 10. [So] 26 students at the same school.”

Scarlet was encouraged to connect with local organisations to ensure her research would make a difference.

Who did you connect with in terms of local organisations?

“So, first of all I met with the Lead commissioner for Mental Health at Stoke Public Health, just to talk about the nature of my project and what it would involve and look at. She was really supportive of the project. She really liked it and she also wanted me to include a little bit about self-harming in relation to social media [and] how much sleep young people were getting, and the impact social media could be having on this.

I then spoke to the director of local charity, Mind, who was happy to take referrals from young people who felt they needed extra support after taking part in the research.”

What impact did that have on you going in to schools to conduct the research?

“First of all, it made me feel a lot more confident knowing that the findings from the research project were going to go towards improving local strategy, towards helping the mental wellbeing of young people and improving this. I also felt that the project would give local organisations a bit more knowledge on social media and how this could be affecting young people’s mental health. So it made me feel a lot more confident.”

Scarlet’s research findings point to the negative impact that posting only the best bits of people lives on social media can have upon young and impressionable minds. The impact on young people was particularly an issue when celebrities do this. You can’t put a law out that tells people they can’t only post nice things about themselves, but have to post about the challenges of life too. You can’t prevent people from using filters and edits on pictures to make them look better, but you can teach people about social responsibility in relation to the issues that only posting the best bits of life has and trying to ensure that there is more transparency about life’s challenges. When celebrities keep it real about the challenges of life it helps take the pressure off people feeling they have to strive for perfection. For example, Prince Harry speaking out about his mental health.

Scarlet found that young people wanted guidance on how to navigate the challenges of social media and to look after their mental health. However, they did not want this wisdom to come from teachers, who in their opinion, did not use social media in the same ways as they did. Teachers were perceived as out of date with youth culture. Youth workers have previously been additional ‘neutral’ educators to children and young people and perceived as more socially relevant to the youth of today. However, youth services have had drastic cuts.  

What were the suggestions that young people came up with about how they might improve their mental wellbeing with social media usage?

“Young people said that they would appreciate having sessions on social media and perhaps teaching them ways to use social media in a more healthy way, but they also acknowledged that they would prefer someone a little bit younger to deliver these sessions. They stated that if teachers delivered these sessions that it wouldn’t be as beneficial because teachers don’t use social media in the same way that they do. They stated that to have someone a little bit younger come in who uses social media in the same way they do would be a lot more beneficial than a teacher delivering the session.”

So they almost wanted someone that was a step ahead of them, but that they could connect with socially, to be able to give them information on how to use social media in a positive way for their mental wellbeing?’

“Yes, definitely.”

Scarlet’s research found that young people were having less sleep due to social media and they struggled putting their own boundaries in place due to fear of missing out.  They suggested that social media platforms could stop people using for long periods of time to help address this.  Restrictions to social media platforms could be a potential feature to be included in national policy.  As a parent, I would argue that parents also have a role to play in supporting their children to implement healthy personal boundaries to social media usage.

Mental health issues in young people across the UK are perceived to be at an all-time high. There are lots of contributing factors to this and social media usage is one element of the issue.  Social media can also be used as a tool for good in helping young people get support and information. 

What did you find, in terms of the findings, from the young people you talked with?

“The first thing that was really evident is that young people are using social media all the time. It was the first thing they checked when they woke up and the last thing they check when they go to sleep.

A lot of the participants stated that this was having an impact on how much sleep they were getting, because they were using social media for a prolonged time before they were going to sleep.

In relation to self-harming behaviour, participants felt that social media didn’t really have an impact upon this, but young people would use social media to perhaps upload stories on Instagram and Snapchat, just sort of saying how they were feeling, in order to seek attention from peers and seek support.” 

It is really important that in any new policy direction the voices of young people are heard in order to ensure that the UK policy directive enhances social media application, rather than dictating access to a digital community that can be used to enhance education and knowledge. Young people in Scarlet’s study saw social media as positive, despite the issues they raised.  New policy needs to ensure that it does not demonise social media, or the users of it, including young people. 

In terms of your next steps, you need to report these findings back to the stakeholders you connected with at the beginning?

“Yes, so I am currently putting together a report of the key findings from all of the interviews that I conducted and this will go back to Public Health and Mind, in order to inform them of the findings and recommendations of what we could do in the future to help young people use social media more healthily.”

In terms of you as a student conducting a piece of research in a very professional way, what impact do you think this will have on you in the future?

“I think by linking with local organisations, it will make me feel more confident when I go to job interviews – I will be able to say that I worked with local organisations on this research project and it sounds a little bit better knowing the findings have gone towards something useful, you know, and it wasn’t just purely for my own self-interest.”

Congratulations on the piece of research and we wish you all the best on writing up the report.

~Sarah Page

Sarah Page left (Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt (final year student conducting research around social media usage and the impact on young people.

You can watch the full intereview between Sarah Page (Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Criminology) and Scarlet Hunt on YouTube here








Shaping Healthy Relationships in Schools

“New research at Staffordshire University is exploring how drama can be used to educate secondary school pupils about unhealthy relationships.

In September 2020, it will be compulsory for primary and secondary schools to include relationship education in its PSHE curriculum. In anticipation of this, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology Dr Em Temple-Malt is leading a research project to explore and evaluate different approaches for educating children and young people.”

Read the full article and check out the video on the Staffordshire University News site here.

“We anticipate that it is going to be more effective to act out the changes in terms of creating those long-term messages about creating healthy relationships for the future.”

School pupils watched a drama performance by Staffordshire University students

You can also read the podcast of Em’s interview on Signal 1 here

World Café: a participatory research tool for the criminologist engaged in seeking world views for transformation

Sarah Page and Em Temple-Malt’s paper titled ‘World Café: a participatory research tool for the criminologist engaged in seeking world views for transformation’ has been published. Sarah said she is ‘very excited to have our paper finally out there in print!’

The paper demonstrates how Em and Sarah used the World Cafe approach to gain insights into NPS (New Psychoactive substances) drug usage levels with young people and the homeless population.

‘World Café offers an alternative data collection methodology using group discussion in a face-to-face environment (Brown with Issacs, 2005).[…] we attempt to reflect on applying World Café with vulnerable groups in society on their understanding and consumption levels of NPS and give some examples of the ethical and data issues experienced.’

The research is co-produce with undergraduate and alumni students and the project was the launch of the Crime and Society Research Group.

‘Staffordshire University Crime and Society Research
Group draws upon a variety of options for delivering
research and evaluations in the field of Criminology and
Sociology that are bespoke for organisations and partnerships. Our research provides recommendations for reducing crime and offers helpful insights into meeting the changing needs
of society.’

“The project originally got Vice Chancellor/research funding to conduct a piece of research that enhanced new teaching delivery. The research informed both my Sociology of Health and Working with Drug Users modules and has assisted with building relationships with our local public health team at the local authority.”

“It was fab to work with Em and team on this project.”

Sarah went on to say that “it has [also] contributed to Em’s Research Methods teaching – we are pretty much the only uni[versity] offering World Cafe methodology training to our UG students. On an impact level, drug service improvements occurred with local homeless hostels (with the most significant drug issues) getting a drop in service set up on their premises.”

The paper is based on a presentation that Sarah and Em delivered at the British Society of Criminology in June.

The NPS research (particularly focused on monkey dust) is being continued this year and Sarah has a final year student working with herself and Public Health on this. “We are now looking at the impact of NPS drugs on local communities.”

Click here to read the publication.


Reducing Race Hate and Extremism in Local Community

On the 7th December, Sarah Page and Professor James Treadwell presented their current and proposed research into race hate and extremism to BSBT partners in Stoke, the local authority, the Home Office and Baroness Williams (lead for counter extremism). The research is being co-produced with our undergraduate students from Sociology and Criminology.

Sarah Page presenting (left) and Professor James Treadwell (on the far right)

 James also talked about his research findings from his book ‘The Rise of The Far Right’. The session was led by Community Coordinator Adrian Walters, from the Local Authority, and was hosted at YMCA North Staffs

Sarah Page said “We were honoured to be a part of the city’s plans and to be involved in work that supports building more cohesion in communities and reducing racial hatred. It was fantastic to hear about the different BSBT projects in the city and the various organisations working together to improve the city.” Sarah also went on to say she is “really proud of [the students] for all their hard work”.  

New Children’s Library Offers Parent-Students More Flexibility When Studying on Campus

Staffordshire University has created the facilities so youngsters can browse through books while their parents are studying alongside them.

It was officially opened [on the 10th October], with children from the university’s nursery invited along as VIP guests.

Sociology student Natalie Campbell, who runs a mature parents and carers’ network at the university, came up with the idea after seeing other students juggle assignments with looking after children.” – Read the full article on the Stoke Sentinel here.

Diary of an Erasmus Student

Sociology, Criminology and Deviance student, Jessica Silva Freitas, studied at Karlova University in Prague on an Erasmus Exchange this year and has shared her experiences with us.

I would 100% recommend students to go on an Erasmus exchange. When I was given this opportunity, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go for it. I asked my partner what his opinion was and my best friends and they all told me to go for it as it is an amazing opportunity[: …] you might not get it again. So I decided to go through with applying to see if they accepted me and they did. I was over the moon, I was so excited to go to another country, learn their culture, just being able to live somewhere else! It was hard leaving family, friends and my partner behind but it was all worth it! I still managed to go visit them during the weekends which wasn’t too bad.

During my time in Prague as Erasmus student, I have learnt so much about myself: I learnt to be more independent (not having to depend on anybody), I learnt to live in another country alone not knowing their language and […tried] my hardest to learn the basics. Believe it or not, I managed to keep on top of my tasks (assignments) and not stressing. The most important thing I learnt while away is loving myself. I found myself again while being away from everyone.

Prague is a beautiful place, it was my first time coming here and I loved it! The buildings, the history behind Prague is incredible. When you first come here, you can struggle as the money currency, transport, the culture is all different, but you get the hang of it. The best parts of Prague is meeting new people all over the world (Spain, Portugal, Italy, America, Poland, Germany etc..). I know I have made friends for life.

Studying in Prague, you have so many opportunities that the university provides. The student union even manages for students to go abroad; how crazy is that! They create events such as going abroad in Croatia, Poland, Germany and even the towns in Czech Republic.[There are a mixture of courses in Prague] where you can decide which [ones] you [want to] pick. At the beginning it’s confusing because you [have] to enroll again […] and there might be the possibility where the course may be packed and you have to go on the waiting list. But the best part is that they give you a week to ‘try out’ the course and if you don’t like it, you can drop out. I found [this] really useful and I picked over seven modules to try out and ended up with four at the end.

The student life around here is so good! It is up to you if you want to go out or not; there are many nightclubs around Prague [and] I have only experienced a few. They are all good! My favourite is Roxy (depends on the day you go, there are a mixture of genres). It is really cheap in Prague, just make sure you don’t buy something straight away before you see other stores as some might be cheaper and the same value.


There are many beautiful sightseeing places, lots of museums, many shopping centres (who doesn’t love a good shopping spree and food afterwards!)


I would advise students to prepare themselves for the changes: you may get home sick for a couple of weeks (depending on who you are). Also, be prepare to be independent it is not a scary thing, it is actually a really good thing! Travel as much as you can wherever you are! Be confident and believe in yourselves.
Wishing everyone luck if you go studying abroad. Best wishes X



Erasmus+ Visit to Karlova University, Prague

At the beginning of May, Dr Em Temple-Malt – Post Graduate Course Leader in Sociology – travelled to Prague to teach at Karlova University, on an Erasmus exchange.

I had the great pleasure of returning to Karlova University (Charles University) in May 2018. Karlova University is one of our Erasmus exchange universities. I went out there to give guest lectures to undergraduate students and to deliver a talk as part of a Sociology Department Seminar Series.

The last time I was in Prague, February 2017, was to establish an exchange programme for our Sociology and Criminology students, and I stayed in the very touristy and beautiful Old Town square.

This time I stayed in the Herrmes hotel, Joninice, which was most excellent (thank you to the travel team for arranging me to stay at this hotel!). The hotel was situated two minutes from the tram stop – which transports you easily and quickly to many parts of the city. I was also five minutes from the Joninice campus, where I was teaching and close to the Sociology staff.

I found myself easily getting into a rhythm with the tram system, especially the B line. A 24kc ticket, stamped with a time code, allowed a 30-minute period of travel, which allowed me to get to and from my destinations. There was lots of construction work, meaning I became familiar with the dash, and crush in the lifts to the town.
In my short stay, I became a regular at the TGI Friday’s, in Andel. Having had a busy day of teaching and intellectually stimulating conversations, visiting different Czech restaurants and the buzz of Czech conversations, I found the restaurant and the same staff each night comforting; it was also really close to the hotel, which was excellent.

On the Wednesday, I got to teach students studying the module ‘Anthropology of Kinship’, the focus of this talk centered on my doctoral research – particularly, civil partners’ reasons for getting married and then breaking the news to significant others. Knowing the importance of interactive and memorable activities, I introduced students to the Channel 4 programme that focused on ostentatious weddings, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and a clip from the TV series, Don’t Tell the Bride, to illustrate the gendered work within British weddings. These clips stimulated conversations and comparisons about the practicalities and organisation of Czech weddings. There was lots of laughter and interesting conversations; centering on the brides’ evident disappointment with the dress her fiancé had selected for her, which she felt made her hips look ‘massive’ and was devastated that the dress had buttons running the full length of the dress.

Thursday was a busy day, the second lecture focused on the way the UK is currently responding to domestic abuse and how services for male perpetrators could be improved based on a recent research project. The module introduction to gender and sexuality, was taken by all female students. We had really interesting and thought-provoking conversations. One student posed me a really challenging question, when she asked why is it that men are always more dominant than women in society? I burbled, speechless, I suspect she is still waiting for an eloquent answer!

One student enjoyed my lecture so much that she gave this feedback about my session: “I wanted to thank you for presenting and speaking about domestic violence. Unfortunately, a lot of people know very little about this issue, which is why I admire your bravery for openly talking about your own experience as well. I know that it can be difficult, especially if you are speaking about such a still largely stigmatized topic.
Today, people are mostly introduced to a black and white type of image about domestic violence. They don’t know the Whys and Hows, nor its forms. I liked that you mentioned the psychological aspect of domestic violence and how it affects both, the victim and the abuser. Speaking of victims and abusers, you also stated that both, women and men, may belong to both categories and that abused men have a harder time seeking help, due to their so called ‘masculinity’ etc. I found it interesting that you took another approach by speaking about the perpetrator and his or her experience. It is very important for me to understand every aspect of a situation and your presentation helped me gain insight into the mind of the abusers.

It was a shame that we did not have more time, because the topic cannot be possibly presented in its full complexity in 80 minutes. I was personally interested in for example the influence of a violent past, the exercises that the abusers tried out etc. Also, I wanted to note that you should not worry about our activity. I believe that many of us had a lot to say, but students are often shy to speak out, especially if they are doubting their English skills”

Thursday afternoon, I had the great opportunity to deliver preliminary findings from my most recent pilot project, ‘displaying unhealthy relational practices education’ project. The seminar was attended by academics and Sociology doctoral students who followed us to the Mont Martre pub, for several pints of beer and to continue very interesting conversations.

Colleagues and friends can be forgiven for thinking that the entire four days was spent indulging in good food and tasty Czech beer, as these were mainly the subject of my Facebook posts!

I was struck by how warm and generous the Czech academics were with their time. My host, Ema Herzonva met me for coffee (recognised my preference for tea and accommodated this), took me for lunches at some of her favourite restaurants. I opted to spend more time with the academics – than doing touristy things. It was a privilege learning about Czech stories of women, gender inequality, communism and socialism’s approach to celebrating the ‘working man’.

Another highlight on this trip to Prague, was catching up with three of my L5 students (Josh Stanley, Jess Silva Freitas and Dana Wade) who had taken up the opportunity to study at Karlova university for a semester. They wowed me with their adventures, and explained how they were enjoying their studies, opportunities to study subjects not available at Staffordshire University (e.g. Jazz, Digital Sociology), and little stories about some of their favourite lecturers. We finished our evening with a trip to my favourite haunt, TGI Fridays, in Andel.


Kathleen’s Prize Award Ceremony

Academics were asked to nominate the best work, from their level 4 students, for the annual Kathleen’s Awards Ceremony in March. Many paid tribute at the ceremony to Staffordshire University Librarian, Kathleen Morgan, who sadly passed away in September 2014. 

Winner, Matthew Harvey – from the School of Health and Social Care – was awarded his certificate and £50 Amazon voucher from Dr Sean Curley – Dean of the School of Law, Policing and Forensics – who said:

“The standard of entries this year has been fantastic and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be here. The competition has been fierce and you are all winners… You should all congratulate yourselves.”

Kathleen’s mother attends every year and remembers the impact Kathleen had on the students. Alison Pope, Learning and Information Services Manager, said:

“In the course of several roles Kathleen filled, her passion to help students realise their potential shone out.She instigated the InfoZone programme which helps orientate first year students and assists them in making the transition from school or college to University level research.”Among the runners up was BA (Hons) Sociology, Criminology and Deviance student, Adam William Colclough and BSc (Hons) Policing and Criminal Investigation, student Georgina Buckley.
  • Jake Rodgers (CAE) nominated by Tony CRAIG
  • Rachel Day (CAE) nominated by Simon SMITH
  • Dylan Foster (BLE) nominated by Aisha ABUELMAATTI
  • Grace Thomson (BLE) nominated by Aisha Abulemaatti
  • Mollie Barker (BLE) nominated by Aisha Abulemaatti
  • Ciaran Pearson-More (LSE) nominated by Philip WALKER
  • Georgina Buckley (LPF) nominated by Rachel BOLTON-KING
  • Constantinos Pavlakos (LPF) nominated by Rhiannon FROST
  • Lindsay Franklin (HSC) nominated by Maqsoodah ASHRAF
  • Richenda Treharne (HSC) nominated by Lisa Beeston
  • Katie Roughan (HSC) nominated by Lisa Beeston
  • Adam Colclough (LPF) nominated by Emma TEMPLE-MALT
  • Rahee Ali (LSE) nominated by Paul ORSMOND
  • Kalina Kolchevska (CDT) nominated by Alke GROPPEL-WEGENER

Congratulations to all of our students for all your hard work!




Researching Intimacy and Sexuality – a Guest Lecture by Jacqui Gabb

On 22nd March, Sociologist Professor Jacqui Gabb, from the Open University, delivered a guest lecture to our level 5 Sociology and Criminology students about qualitative research methods and researching sexualities and intimacy.

Dr Em Temple-Malt, Post Graduate Course Leader in Sociology and Criminology organised the lecture for the students:

During the lecture [Jacqui] captivated us with insightful stories drawn from three of her research studies: ‘Perverting Motherhood?’, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘Enduring Love?

Lessons were learned about thinking carefully through our recruitment practices. The way we write ourselves and who we are looking for into our research project advertisements might unintentionally exclude and silence certain people from coming forward to tell their family stories, because they don’t feel they quite fit what we are looking for in a research participant.

I am a massive fan of creative research methods and using elicitation tools and techniques in my own qualitative research projects. Thus, I personally loved hearing the motivations behind weaving different methodological techniques together in order to bring about multi-sensory and more holistic stories which might not otherwise emerge if only one research method technique was used.

I concurred with Jacqui’s conclusion that as researchers, we need to be braver and push ourselves to use the data that emerges when we embed elicitation techniques into conventional interview methods.

“It was great to meet another researcher and get an insight into adaptations of research methods we have already been taught. it emphasised that research is not a one size fits all type of thing, and that sometimes you need to adapt methods and yourself to achieve greater results” – Nat Campbell, BA (Hons) Sociology.

For many of us, and I am guilty of this too, the well-trodden path of analysing certain forms of data is all too easy to replicate. We insert materials into our interviews to encourage a participant to tell more detailed, richer stories (e.g. time line, weekly-diary, task-grid, photos, concentric circles, collage or sketch etc) and then only analyse the narrative told within the interview transcript, for example, rather than analysing the work that the participant does with this additional elicitation material. This point has certainly inspired me to be braver in future work I do with elicitation techniques.

“Personal is Political”

She also reminded us about the capacity of our research to be political and to make a difference. The personal is indeed political and where possible, it is crucial to take up those opportunities to tell decision makers and stake holders about the lives of those who we are researching.

A memorable quote: “What does it cost to keep a relationship together? The cost of a cup of tea”

While the lecture was brilliant, I would imagine that the biggest highlight for the student audience was the workshop activities. Jacqui provided small examples of data from the Enduring Love study and, in small groups, the audience were invited to drill down and analyse key aspects of the data. Engaging in such tasks meant students were left with an appreciation of the extraordinary efforts and ‘relationship work’ that some research participants were undertaking, in order to make quite difficult, intimate relationships work.

“What does it cost to keep a relationship together? The cost of a cup of tea”

The final part of the workshop invited students to have a go at making their own emotion maps with colourful emoticon stickers.

“Having Jacqui speak to us not only gave us the opportunity to ask any questions about her research, but also gave me more ideas on how to use multiple data collection techniques in my own research.” – Jack Whalley, BA (Hons) Sociology, Criminology and Deviance

They then had the opportunity to feedback to Jacqui how they might use this particular approach within their own dissertation research projects.

Using emotion maps in research

I have followed Jacqui’s research with a keen and passionate interest since I started my academic studies in 2006. One of the reasons her work is so compelling and satisfying is the equal amount of attention she gives to the research methods used to elicit the ‘messy’ stories of relational, emotional practices of queer families and relationships.

Her approach to qualitative research methods is inspirational – and I’ve attempted to instill this passion for research methods into my teaching of my undergraduate students. I won’t lie, this is one of the proudest moments in my career to date. I am immensely proud of my undergraduate students and the research projects that they are pursuing, and I got to introduce my fabulous level 5 students to Professor Jacqui Gabb!


Thinking like a Sociologist and Criminologist at the National Justice Muesum

Professor James Treadwell and Dr Jo Turner took Level 4 Sociology and Criminology students to the National Justice Museum in Nottingham, in February.

Jo Turner said “the venue was excellent and the whole day was so well organised. In the morning, the students had a tour of the museum/old prison, with a focus on capital punishment, and in the afternoon the students enacted a Freedom of Religion court case in the court room there.”

One student said

“the pics are amazing and remind me of a great day we all had. [It was] a real, valuable experience. It also got me excited about university and my degree… It was nice to be out of the surroundings of a “class room” and see first hand how the criminal system would run. It also (I feel) makes you connect more and appreciate how much we have developed our criminal justice system to how we used to treat people. Definitely made me appreciate and [be] proud of how the individuals were brave enough to be a voice and to make a change for humanity.”

Another student said:

“I enjoyed the trip to the National Justice Museum in Nottingham. It was fascinating and very informative. I particularly enjoyed being able to go inside the old cells and women’s facilities from long ago. Also, seeing the gallows and the old trap doors used for capital punishment was very interesting, albeit somewhat morbid!

“It really got me thinking about my stance on capital punishment, and it has certainly confirmed my opposition to it. Our group (appellants) thoroughly enjoyed the mock court case and were pleased to have won it on the grounds of Human Rights  The trip was very well organised and everything ran smoothly. The whole day was most useful for our upcoming assignments and it was some real food for thought for us future Criminologists/Sociologists!”