Document Type

Honors Thesis




Lynn Atkins

Committee Members

Jennifer Blossom, Susan Bredlau, Melissa Ladenheim

Graduation Year

May 2023

Publication Date

Spring 2023


This study examines the availability and accuracy of information about the connection between the gut microbiome and the brain, specifically mental illness. Mental illness is a general term used to describe nearly 300 mental disorders, though the two most common, anxiety and depression, were of specific interest for this study. The current biological/ neural theories for anxiety and depression do not adequately illustrate many other factors that influence the development of mental illness. After determining that Generation Z is one of the age groups most affected by these mental illnesses, social media was used to analyze the availability of the information on the connection. The range of birth years falling in Generation Z is approximately 1997 to 2010, This generation that succeeds Millennials precedes Generation Alpha is more likely than any other generation to use social media for scientific and medical knowledge, therefore it is imperative that the information they are consuming is accurate and recent. Thirty-five Instagram accounts were analyzed and classified into 5 categories. This was done to compare the effectiveness of different fields of study to communicate scientific information to the public. The most followed type of account was the aesthetic/ encouragement category by approximately 414,000. This account type scored an average of 2 out of 4 on information accuracy, though the accounts did not communicate scientific information. These accounts had 0 posts containing information about the gut microbiome and brain connection. Accounts that were run by dieticians and nutritionists were the least followed, while simultaneously having the second highest accuracy score. They also had the highest average number of posts with information pertaining to the gut microbiome and brain connection. Accounts run by MDs posted an average of 3 pertinent posts in the last 6 months, the highest of any category. This calculates to only about 0.02% of the total content posted in the last 6 months. Based on these results, social media does not specifically and adequately address the connection between the gut microbiome and depression and anxiety. This thesis suggests future implementations to close the knowledge gap between scientists and medical professionals and the communication needs of the general public, specifically Generation Z. It also discusses the other social science lenses needed to completely understand the causes of mental illness and do justice to the millions of people that live with them every day.

Rights and Access Note

Copyright 2023 Grace LaFrance All Rights Reserved