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The motives for using social media in terms of well-being could be various – research purpose scrolling, connecting to like-minded individuals, or even mistrust and frustration with the healthcare system. What happens when people decide to take matters into their own hands concerning health?
While being informed and proactive about your health is unquestionably praiseworthy, medical professionals should be in control of the diagnosis and treatment.
A 2021 Vox piece on mental health warns that social media is becoming the new “WebMD for mental health”. If your number one search engine is TikTok – this article might come in handy by looking at the benefits and harms of using TikTok to answer common medical questions.
TikTok emerged in 2017, swiftly rose to fame, and became one of the fastest-growing apps in the world. Fueled by the pandemic, TikTok hit 1 billion monthly active users in September 2021. For comparison, Forbes reports that Facebook took eight years to hit the same user mark.
Even though a large majority of users are young adults between the ages of 20-30, it unquestionably captures the attention of more and more social media users due to its entertaining visuals, simple interface, and enormous marketing potential for creators.
The ace up their sleeve is the For You Page and its unique algorithm.
Even if the user follows zero accounts, the FYP gets flooded with a never-ending stream of short viral clips. However, the key to success, as Guardian informs, is the following: “The makeup of videos you’re presented with slowly begins to change until it becomes almost uncannily good at predicting what videos from around the site are going to pique your interest.”
Clinicians report that the number of young adults who self-diagnose is spiraling. A great deal of them turn to TikTok for mental health advice.
They go as far as reciting clinical criteria attached to a particular diagnosis, e.g.:
A study published by Cambridge University Press in September 2022 found that the hashtag ADHD on TikTok has 6.3 billion views. The users reported watching videos related to symptomatology and sharing experiences with others going through similar issues.
Even though raising mental health awareness is beneficial and helps reduce the stigma, the competence of video creators should certainly be taken into consideration.
These platforms can easily be a breeding ground for misleading and potentially dangerous information because people relate to celebrities and influencers.
Many users report that after searching for mental health-related content, TikTok started to push countless videos on the same topic. In that way, individuals are overwhelmed by various mental disorders.
Self-diagnosing based on vague symptoms leaves them unsupported and formally undiagnosed.
On a Sky News podcast, Dr. Tara Quinn-Cirillo points out that the pandemic might have had a role in the increase of mental health influencers and life coaches with questionable backgrounds and unlimited reach.
She noticed some influencers shared comprehensive information on places where people could find medical help, but also warned others offered dangerous checkbox lists for mental health illnesses (most surely with the best intentions).
TikTok is a double-edged sword – it can be a powerful tool for recognition and connection to others with similar experiences. However, users should be aware that having particular traits does not necessarily mean one has a medical condition.
A responsible influencer should not go as far as suggesting medication or sharing oversimplified diagnostic criteria.
Social media should be only a starting point to access traditional medical support. The key is to support access to evidence-based, reliable information for teens and young adults by redirecting them to seek professional help.
To wrap things up, here is a list of proof questions for fact-checking mental health information found online written by psychologist and author Doreen Dodgen-Magee:
The article was written by: Ana Knezović