Young adults' experiences of seeking online information about diabetes and mental health in the age of social media


Fergie G, Hilton S & Hunt K (2016) Young adults' experiences of seeking online information about diabetes and mental health in the age of social media. Health Expectations, 19 (6), pp. 1324-1335.

Background:  The Internet is a primary source of health information for many. Since the widespread adoption of social media, user-generated health-related content has proliferated, particularly around long-term health issues such as diabetes and common mental health disorders (CMHDs).  Objective:  To explore perceptions and experiences of engaging with health information online in a sample of young adults familiar with social media environments and variously engaged in consuming user-generated content.  Methods:  Forty semi-structured interviews were conducted with young adults, aged 18–30, with experience of diabetes or CMHDs. Data were analysed following a thematic networks approach to explore key themes around online information-seeking and content consumption practices.  Results:  Although participants primarily discussed well-rehearsed approaches to health information-seeking online, particularly reliance on search engines, their accounts also reflected active engagement with health-related content on social media sites. Navigating between professionally produced websites and user-generated content, many of the young adults seemed to appreciate different forms of health knowledge emanating from varied sources. Participants described negotiating health content based on social media practices and features and assessing content heuristically. Some also discussed habitual consumption of content related to their condition as integrated into their everyday social media use.  Conclusion:  Technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube offer opportunities to consume and assess content which users deem relevant and useful. As users and organizations continue to colonize social media platforms, opportunities are increasing for health communication and intervention. However, how such innovations are adopted is dependent on their alignment with users' expectations and consumption practices.

common mental health disorders; diabetes; health information; Internet; social media

Health Expectations: Volume 19, Issue 6

Publication date31/12/2016
Publication date online31/12/2015
Date accepted by journal27/10/2015