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May 16, 2024

May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

When Too Much Awareness is Harmful - The Dangers of TikTok and Self Diagnosis

We’ve come a long way in terms of de-stigmatizing mental health. In fact, it’s relatively common place to hear people say, “my therapist said…”. This is fantastic news, because it increases nonjudgmental access to mental health care for individuals of all ages. Likewise, it can lead to more accurate and prompt diagnoses which can help people receive treatment and interventions to improve their overall quality of life. Among those who preach the benefits of mental health the most is Generation Z, which is made up of individuals between the ages of 12-27. According to the Huffington Post, Gen-Zer’s go to therapy far more than any other age group (as per a November 2023 survey).

Gen-Zer’s are also the main consumers of TikTok, which has become more than a dance app. With more than a billion users, TikTok is used to for the latest styles and trends, songs, social influencers, humorous videos, and even more analytical topics including mental health. Although there is undoubtedly a large amount of information shared through the app, some of it seems to be disputed because of negative outcomes, including an increase in users self-diagnosing themselves with mental health conditions.

According to a recent article in Banner Health, psychiatrist Dr. Adeola Adelayo finds it concerning that in the last year there has been a rise in teens and young adults who self-diagnose conditions such as ADHD, OCD, dissociative identity disorder, autism, and Tourette disorder. “We’ve seen an explosion of Tourette-like tics and every single case has been linked with watching countless TikTok videos about people with Tourette syndrome,” she said.

Dr. Adelayo explains that while these individuals did not actually have Tourette syndrome, they were not lying either, which implies that due to watching countless videos on the specific subject matter, they seemingly convinced themselves that they met the diagnostic criteria. According to the article, after a series of individualized treatment plans and two weeks without TikTok, the patients were back to normal, tic free.

To provide some additional clarification, awareness is a positive thing when it comes to mental health, as awareness leads to timelier treatment for a variety of people who truly benefit from the service; however, these videos may have unwittingly spread misinformation that has led many to believe they have a condition or disorder when they may not. “People see enough of these videos, and they start to relate to any number of the potential symptoms and even begin to present with some of the same symptoms. The thing is psychological illnesses don’t happen that way. Just because you pee a lot, doesn’t mean you have diabetes. You just don’t have diabetes because you say you have diabetes,” Dr. Adelayo explains.

If your teen watches a lot of TikTok videos, there are ways to navigate this mental health concern with the app. Dr. Adelayo advises users to check credentials and qualifications of people sharing information related to mental health. TikTok is not therapy - mental health care is carried out by a licensed mental health professional, and while there may be validation and community in TikTok videos, this does not replace true therapy. These are topics that parents can discuss with their teens who are able to take part in conversations like this. There are also some things parents can do to minimize possible negative effects from the app:

  • Checking in frequently with children - carve out time to truly have conversations and talk with your child about what is going on in his/her life, what they are currently experiencing, and if they need your help with anything.
  • Monitoring social media usage - parents can choose to adopt a variety of ways to monitor what their teens are doing online. If a parent is comfortable with their teen using the TikTok app, for example, they may choose to monitor their teens “For You” page on the app. The app has an algorithm to show videos that are most likely interesting for those specified users. By changing the settings in the “For You” page, one can un-trap themselves from the content posing a risk (such as seeing less mental health videos). Other parents may choose to ask their teens to take a “TikTok timeout” or completely delete the app altogether.
  • Quality family time - Gen Z spends a significant amount of time online, so it’s understandable that they are engaged as much as they are across social networks. Take time as a family to have phone free time and to take part in activities that get them away from their phone screen.
  • Paying attention to mental health needs - May is mental health awareness month after all, and there is an abundance of resources for parents to turn to if they have concerns regarding their teenagers’ mental health. A great start is talking to the school psychologist/guidance counselor, as these professionals likely have suggestions and recommendations for parents. For more serious concerns, contacting a licensed mental health professional is advised.If your child ever approaches you and indicates they have a mental health condition, talk to them about what they are specifically experiencing and connect them with a professional.

As a reminder, the only true way to receive a diagnosis is by seeing a licensed professional. Mental health has a strong awareness right now - let’s make it as accurate as possible.



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