Social media is a powerful tool when it comes to sharing information. Unfortunately, knowing if that information is accurate can be challenging. When it comes to mental health, false information can be especially damaging and has led many to inaccurately self-diagnose. While self-diagnosing can be an important tool for individuals who cannot access professional help yet, those who look to social media for mental health information should use caution.
Creators Posing as Professionals
TikTok is a highly popular video-sharing app that allows users to post video content that is up to three minutes long. Anyone can join TikTok, making it easy for people to pose as medical professionals and share mental health content and diagnostic advice that they may not be qualified to talk about. While you don’t have to be an expert to share accurate mental health content, professionals have a much deeper understanding of the complications and challenges of diagnosing mental health conditions.
Many TikTok creators may be using mental health content to gain more views of their videos and to convince others that they have a disorder, encouraging people to follow them and learn more. While some real medical professionals are talking about mental health disorders on the app, it can be difficult for the average person to know who to trust.
TikTok’s algorithm makes it more tempting than ever to self-diagnose. When a user interacts with certain content, whether by liking, commenting, or going to a related hashtag, TikTok will show the user similar content on their “For You” page, a feed that shows up on the app’s home screen. So, if a user was curious about borderline personality disorder, they might search the hashtag to view similar content. However, the algorithm will then continue to show the user borderline personality disorder content on their feed even when they’re not looking for it.
TikTok’s algorithm can seem so accurate at times that if someone repeatedly sees content for a mental health condition, they might begin to believe that they have it.
“If you spend 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes viewing people talk about these disorders over and over again, that can make it seem like these conditions are a lot more prevalent than they actually are in the world,” said psychologist Ethan Kross.
Some rare mental health conditions are highly viewed topics on social media. For example, #borderlinepersonalitydisorder currently has more than 600 million views on TikTok, while #dissociativeidentitydisorder has more than 800 million views. In reality, only 1.6% of the population suffers from borderline personality disorder and 1.5% of the population is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
Misrepresentation of Mental Illness
It’s impossible to accurately portray the severity and reality of living with a mental health disorder on video platforms like TikTok. TikTok’s three-minute video limit forces creators to simplify and shorten their content. This can be damaging when it comes to mental illnesses, as it risks making people believe that they have a disorder based on a few simple diagnostic criteria. When people inaccurately diagnose themselves, they may be unintentionally downplaying the severity of those conditions.
Additionally, some trends on TikTok make light of mental illnesses. For example, many people who say that they have dissociative identity disorder make videos to introduce their alternate personalities. Another trend involves creators implying that they have bipolar disorder, sharing a clip when they are depressed and another when they’re in a manic episode. Turning mental health disorder symptoms into trends is dangerous because it encourages people to pretend that they have the condition for views.
Tips for Navigating Mental Health Content on Social Media
When used correctly, social media can be a positive tool for spreading awareness about mental health conditions and helping those who have rare disorders find a community. However, people should use social media with caution. These tips can help when it comes to navigating mental health content:
- Be aware of people posing as professional
- Don’t participate in trends that make light of mental health disorders
- Avoid taking diagnostic tips from creators too seriously
- Turn to reliable sources on the internet to help answer your mental health questions
Receiving an accurate diagnosis requires a professional. If you suspect that you might be struggling with a mental health disorder, talk to a mental health expert about your symptoms.
About Timberline Knolls
At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, located outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and girls who are living with eating disorders. Our private facility offers female-only treatment programs for eating disorders, addiction, and a range of mental health conditions. We work closely with each person to develop treatment goals to maximize strengths while focusing on individual needs. Our treatment team understands that each woman has unique needs and that she must play a role in her journey to wellness.