Faculty Mentor

Dr. Julie Williams Merten, Associate Professor

Faculty Mentor Department

Department of Public Health


While widely used by clinicians, self-care has recently emerged as a trending topic in mainstream and social media. Informal health and support communities have formed on social media sites such as Instagram, which hosts more than one billion monthly users and ranks as the second most popular social networking application in the United States (U.S). This study investigates how the term self-care is portrayed on Instagram. In particular, the researchers were interested in whether or not current portrayals of self-care on Instagram aligned with the health themes previously established in the clinical definitions of self-care. Using the search term #selfcare, researchers sampled the top 200 Instagram posts in February 2020 (prior to Covid-19). A codebook was developed, pilot tested, and used to code posts. Two researchers independently coded posts. Directed content analysis of #selfcare reveals that the majority of posts were for a female audience, nearly half (43%, n=86) were explicitly geared toward health with the most common being mental and emotional health (23%, n=46.5), physical wellness (19%, n=38), and interpersonal wellness (6%, n=11.5). The emergence of public self-care dialogue is reflected in patterns of social media use, particularly on Instagram where #selfcare has amassed more than 24 million posts. Images from Instagram may help in understanding public use of the term self-care and should be included in the discussion of health promotion through social media.