Teens and young adults are self-diagnosing their mental illness on TikTok. What could go wrong?

“I love it when people say you don’t have ADHD,” @KatieSueHue says in a video, giving her audience a “we know better” look.

As she dances to happy music, her list of ADHD symptoms flashes across the screen: “It’s going to be bubbly, dull, and offbeat.” “Relive every conversation I’ve had and regret what I said.” “New hyperfixes every month.”

By early November, the video had 1.7 million likes, including Smith. “That sounds like what I’m dealing with,” Smith thought.

Like the country intense mental health crisis meet a shortage of mental health care providers — and TikTok is digging deeper and deeper into our lives — experts worry that vulnerable people with real disease are being dragged down sometimes destructive paths, and that even many who aren’t sick are being seduced into thinking they are.

It’s easy to think of TikTok as just a platform for short, lighthearted dance videos or viral syncs or cinnamon challenges.

But over time, its algorithm has become famous for figuring out what users are interested in, then relentlessly pushing video after video on the topic – a practice that sends people “deep down rabbit holes of hard-to-escape content”, according to a 2021 Wall Street Journal survey.

A TikTok spokeswoman pointed the Globe to a blog post on the subject which says the company is “testing ways to avoid recommending a series of similar content – such as extreme diets or fitness, sadness or breakups…”

On the plus side, TikTok videos (or posts on other social media sites) can give people insight into themselves and inspire them to seek professional help, experts say. If you look for it, it’s even possible to find content from real mental health experts, and all this attention to mental health shines a light on what was once a taboo subject.

But too often, experts say, suggestible people confuse one or two symptoms with the disorder itself.

“If I were to go through the DSM” – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – “and take a little snapshot of every diagnosis, we would all be linked and self-diagnosed,” said Alex Chinks, a registered clinical psychologist at Needham. . “A symptom of depression is fatigue. Well, I was tired all week.

Corey Basch, professor of public health at William Paterson University, recently conducted a study that looked at 100 TikTok videos with the hashtag #mentalhealth. Collectively, the videos have garnered more than a billion views, but the volume and intensity of the comments is even more astonishing — and extremely concerning — she said.

In a cut video that suggested instead slap with a rubber band and spraying your wrist with red paint to mimic blood, for example, the commenters were grateful for the suggestion.

“I wish someone would jump on it and say, ‘I’m a mental health professional, and when my patients want to cut themselves, we look for ways to identify more adaptive behaviors in times of distress,'” said Basch.

In videos about a scenario in which a particular person gets you down, she says, “an army comes to the comments section to validate. “This person is toxic or horrible,” even if the person is his mother. »

To go to TikTok and search for mental health disorders is to find yourself in a world with seemingly endless seductive videos. They’re mostly hosted by random strangers and people with enough followers to be known as “influencers”, who detail symptoms as they dance or roar for the camera, and Adele or the latest viral hit plays backwards. -plan.

Here is a like #Autism: “Things I didn’t know were my autistic traits,” reads the on-screen message, as a telegenic woman moves to the music and bats her false eyelashes.

“Listen to the same song over and over!” is a sign of autism, viewers learn with a smile. “Struggling to respond to messages” is another.

Some of the symptoms detailed in the mental health videos — including listening to a song on repeat or having trouble responding to a message — are almost absurdly general. But people trying to figure themselves out might find that a “light bulb goes out for them, even if it doesn’t completely provide the answer,” said Lovern Moseley, a psychologist at Boston Medical Center.

“People want to feel like they’re part of a community, or they’re looking for something to explain why they don’t fit in or behave in a certain way.”

Indeed, Deborah Offner, a clinical psychologist at Newton, recently treated a college student who struggled with feelings of insecurity and vulnerability and who “learned” from TikTok that she had an “anxious attachment style,” said. offend.

But there was no evidence of ‘anxious attachment’ – which is a clinical categorization based on the nature of a child’s early attachments to caregivers, said Offner, author of the next study. “Educators as First Responders”, a teacher’s guide to adolescent development and mental health.

“In my opinion, she was just sick of connecting with people at parties and having them walk past her the next day like they didn’t know her.”

TikTok self-diagnoses can be harmful because they can trick people into giving themselves inaccurate labels, said Jessica Brunner, a licensed clinical social worker.

“That’s not a good way to go through life,” she said. “It can completely change the way someone thinks about themselves. “Hello, my name is TOC” or “Hello, my name is depression”.

In an emailed statement to The Globe, a TikTok spokeswoman said: “We care deeply about the well-being of our community, which is why we continue to invest in digital literacy education aimed at to help people evaluate and understand the content they interact with. on line. We strongly encourage individuals to consult a professional physician if they need assistance.

Smith, the woman who suspects she might have ADHD, made an appointment to discuss it with her doctor. But regardless of professional diagnoses, TikTok’s algorithm has already spoken.

“I just got an ad for an app where I can pay $80 a month for some kind of [ADHD] evaluation,” she said.

If you or a loved one need help, the Commonwealth maintains a list of emergency numbers (https://www.mass.gov/service-details/crisis-hotlines).


Beth Teitell can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.

Comments are closed.