Observational prospective study of social media, smartphone use and self-harm in a clinical sample of young people: Study protocol

Amanda Bye, Ben Carter, Daniel Leightley, Kylee Trevillion, Maria Liakata, Stella Branthonne-Foster, Grace Williamson, Zohra Zenasni, Rina Dutta*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction Young people are the most frequent users of social media and smartphones and there has been an increasing speculation about the potential negative impacts of their use on mental health. This has coincided with a sharp increase in the levels of self-harm in young people. To date, studies researching this potential association are predominantly cross-sectional and reliant on self-report data, which precludes the ability to objectively analyse behaviour over time. This study is one of the first attempts to explore temporal patterns of real-world usage prior to self-harm, to identify whether there are usage patterns associated with an increased risk. Methods and analysis To study the mechanisms by which social media and smartphone use underpin self-harm in a clinical sample of young people, the Social media, Smartphone use and Self-harm in Young People (3S-YP) study uses a prospective, observational study design. Up to 600 young people aged 13-25 years old from secondary mental health services will be recruited and followed for up to 6 months. Primary analysis will compare real-world data in the 7 days leading up to a participant or clinician recorded self-harm episode, to categorise patterns of problematic usage. Secondary analyses will explore potential mediating effects of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, loneliness and bullying. Ethics and dissemination This study was approved by the National Research Ethics Service, London - Riverside, as well as by the Joint Research and Development Office of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM), and the SLaM Clinical Research Interactive Search (CRIS) Oversight Committee. The findings from this study will be disseminated through peer-reviewed scientific journals, conferences, websites, social media and stakeholder engagement activities. Trial registration number NCT04601220.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere069748
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023


  • Child & adolescent psychiatry
  • Suicide & self-harm


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