TikTok Trend Alert: Is self-diagnosis of a mental disorder safe?

You’re probably familiar with “Dr. Google” – that is, using Google to try to self-diagnose a health problem and jump to the conclusion that you have cancer or are dying. Now there is a new version for the youngest: “Dr. TIC Tac?”

Popular social media platform TikTok, known for its 15-second music videos on just about every topic you can think of, has been hailed for starting important conversations about mental health, especially among young people, allowing them to learn about mental health issues, and get support from peers going through the same things.

But now, a more troubling mental health TikTok trend has emerged. Over the past year there has been an increase in the number of teens and young adults using TikTok to self-diagnose conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) , borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette’s syndrome, among others.

This is problematic not only because a diagnosis must be made by an experienced mental health care expert, but because while many TikTok creators post useful information about mental health issues, not all do. , says Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD, a psychologist based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and author of Deviced! : Balancing life and technology in a digital world.

“There are many accounts, hosted by educated, trained and licensed professionals, where reliable information can be found,” says Dr. Dodgen-Magee. But not all posts contain accurate, science-based information — and many people who browse TikTok don’t know that, she warns.

RELATED: The best mental health TikTok influencers – and why they matter

When a mental health care crisis and barriers to care collide

It’s no secret that the mental health of our country’s young people has suffered in recent years, especially amid the isolation, health issues, deaths and other uncertainties brought on by the COVID pandemic. -19. In December 2021, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD issued an advisory on the escalating youth mental health crisis.

“The challenges facing today’s generation of young people are unprecedented and particularly difficult to manage. And the effect these challenges have had on their mental health is devastating,” Dr Murthy wrote in his advisory.

At the same time, there are barriers that can prevent young people from getting the mental health care they need. Stigma towards mental health issues, lack of trust in healthcare professionals, not knowing where to turn for help, and believing that their issues are not serious enough to justifying help are several factors that prevent young people from seeking help, suggested a review published in January 2020 in European child and adolescent psychiatry.

According to a study published in March 2021 in Frontiers in public health.

For better or worse, young people in crisis can turn to TikTok to fill those care gaps.

“Social media is a first line of information for a huge demographic. Many Millennials and Gen Zers check social media more than the news, which makes the information received extremely valuable,” says Akua Boateng, PhD, a Philadelphia-based licensed psychotherapist specializing in individual and couples therapy.

And for some young people, mental health TikToks may be the first discussions about mental health they are exposed to, especially if these topics are not discussed at home or at school. In fact, some viewers may have limited or no prior training in mental health before seeing these topics discussed on TikTok, according to Dr. Boateng.

RELATED: The Surgeon General Says the Mental Health of America’s Youth is in Crisis: Where Are We Going?

Why self-diagnosis often fails

While the growing mental health community on TikTok has helped reduce stigma and opened the door for people to seek professional help, it’s important to recognize the limitations of social media when it comes to diagnosing mental health issues. mental health, experts say.

“The danger of social media self-diagnosis is that it’s often incorrect,” says John F. Tholen, PhD, a retired cognitive psychologist in Seal Beach, Calif., and author of Focused Positivity: The Path to Success and Peace of Mind. Dr. Tholen has extensive experience treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with cognitive behavioral therapy.

“As any professional can attest, making a psychiatric diagnosis is a complicated process that often requires subtle distinctions. There is a big difference between experiencing symptoms and having a disorder,” adds Dr. Tholen.

Many people may experience symptoms associated with various mental health disorders, but less severely or persistently than is required for a diagnosis, Tholen says. For example, many people experience normal mood swings throughout the day, but do not meet the diagnostic criteria needed to diagnose mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder.

“To be diagnosed, a psychological or personality disorder must significantly interfere with our ability to function in major aspects of life, such as relationships, school, work, or the ability to experience pleasure,” explains Tholen.

Additionally, says Tholen, “Another danger of psychiatric self-diagnosis is missing a treatable medical condition, such as thyroid problems or an irregular heartbeat.” Symptoms of these conditions can sometimes look alike, adds Tholen.

How to Get a Reliable Mental Health Diagnosis

It can be difficult to get a diagnosis for serious illnesses like borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or ADHD. Nevertheless, knowing How? ‘Or’ What Getting a reliable diagnosis is key to getting the help you need.

“If you suspect you have a mental disorder, the best thing to do is seek professional confirmation,” says Tholen.

Getting a diagnosis usually starts with a visit to your GP for an exam. They will ask you about your symptoms and may perform medical tests to rule out any other health conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor will also refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation and treatment. If you need help finding a mental health professional, resources such as the American Psychiatric Association and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offer search tools to help you find a professional near you. .

Therapy can be expensive, but there are several ways to help cut costs. For example, some therapists offer sliding scale rates based on the individual’s income. And virtual therapy offered through apps such as BetterHelp and Talkspace is often cheaper than in-person therapy.

Verification of mental health TikToks

While you may see videos made by trained mental health professionals when browsing TikTok, you’ll also likely come across plenty of first-hand experiences from people with mental health issues, Boateng says. While these experiments can be useful as long as they provide truthful information, they have their limitations.

Dodgen-Magee agrees. “It’s important to recognize this and make sure we check the information we rely on about our own mental health against several different places or platforms to find reliable information,” she advises.

She recommends asking yourself the following questions to verify mental health information found on TikTok:

  • “Can this person provide evidence for the claims they are making?”
  • “Are their thoughts, ideas or opinions based on the experience of more than one person?
  • “Does the information they share match other reliable, high-quality sources?”
  • “Is this creator paid by someone who could influence their content?”

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