TikTok does an exceptional job of bringing people together. During the early days of the pandemic, conversations surrounding mental health reached the forefront of our collective consciousness, creating space on the popular platform for people with mental illnesses to seek assistance and community. But on an app that is specially designed to suck you down bottomless rabbit holes fueled by endless scrolling, it can be easy to get caught up in a web of false information and dubious advice. While I’m personally of the belief that mental health TikTok serves as a refuge for many, it can be quite dangerous for others–especially for the young and easily impressionable.
The first example that comes to mind with all this is #ADHDTok, the side of TikTok devoted to spreading awareness for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Search “ADHD” on the platform, and you’ll see that the tag has garnered over 16 billion views. It’s a reach that far exceeds any other platform. Thanks to these videos, many people are now more educated on ADHD’s symptoms, such as lack of focus and emotional dysregulation. As a diagnosed ADHDer myself, I’ve actually learned quite a bit about myself via TikTok. It’s great for finding people similar to yourself.
On the flip side, many #ADHDTok videos cover superficial behaviors that could apply to a majority of people; this has led to the unfortunate effect of convincing non-ADHD folks that they also have the condition, according to Jessi Gold, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine. Speaking anecdotally, Gold says she’s seen an uptick of teens and young adults who think they have ADHD because TikTok told them so. While I understand the appeal of using TikTok to confirm personal health concerns, especially as BIPOC faces more difficulties accessing healthcare, it points toward a dangerous trend of adopting information on the internet as facts.
Influencers also play a huge role in the precarious nature of mental health TikTok. While some certified professionals (like Dr. Inna) have made a name for themselves there, the majority of pages you’ll find will be run by someone with absolutely no background in health. These influencers have built a following sharing their experiences with mental illnesses–of course, with views and monetization in mind. While that type of content has aided thousands of people in their self-discovery journey, it can also be full of falsehoods in order to gain traction across the app. Some have claimed that ADHD is the next step in human evolution, while others have tried to link schizophrenia to having spiritual abilities. Because of the harm this can and has led to; I think it’s important that everyone carefully vet who’s videos they’re actually consuming.
According to the Washington Post, there are a few ways to vet who you get your mental health advice from on TikTok. First, trustworthy creators almost always have their credentials listed in their bio. Be cautious of slippery titles such as “coach” or “expert” that don’t give insight into any specific training. Second, it’s best to do your own research outside of the app; instead of heading to TikTok’s search bar, try looking up particular symptoms or concerns on medical websites and journals. Third, it’s recommended to listen to your body’s cues after consuming someone’s content. Are you anxious or calm? Those can be great indicators of how helpful said content is. Finally, ask yourself if the video you’re watching emphasizes diagnosis over symptoms. If a creator is saying, “you’re experiencing ___; therefore, you are ___,” click away! Only a licensed mental health professional can give diagnoses. By taking these precautions, you can better protect your peace of mind from negative influences in TikTok’s mental health sphere.