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Teens Turning to TikTok for Mental Health Advice: Is It Safe?
When you are feeling unwell, have multiple symptoms, and decide to Google what might ail you. Sometimes doom takes hold and you self-diagnose with the worst-case scenario. But it is not just for physical ailments but also mental health issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a substantial increase in mental health crises for youth in the United States, especially those in underserved communities. ADHD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse are the most diagnosed mental disorders among teenagers, with depression and suicide reaching their highest levels in a decade.
Various limitations contribute to a lack of seeking treatment: limited access in the community, finances, stigma associated with mental health, and fear of judgment. As a result, teenagers seek alternative methods to help with their mental health challenges.
Social Media Therapy: Alternative Method Teens Using for Medical Advice
Today, social media is a powerful influence on teen culture. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, roughly 90% of teens have used social media, with 51% reporting they visit it daily. On average, teens are online for approximately nine hours per day. YouTube was reported to be the most popular site among teenagers, followed by TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
A newer trend currently amongst teens includes seeking social media therapy. It has been reported the term "mental health" has been searched on TikTok over 67 billion times. Teenagers regularly turn to social media platforms to find support for their mental health struggles.
Most teens view social media as a safe place to talk or vent about what is going on in their lives. They find helpful coping resources, there is minimal judgment associated with researching mental health via social media and they often feel validated in their struggles when hearing from peers experiencing similar challenges.
Many social media influencers are not trained professionals in mental health; these influencers do not have the background to provide accurate diagnoses. Additionally, there is no guarantee of confidentiality, the information on social media is traditionally not vetted by a trained professional, and the skills/resources provided are not guaranteed to be evidence-based treatments.
Self-diagnosis can be a slippery slope, especially for teenagers. Most social media platforms operate from an algorithm that organizes content based on an individual's searches.
Therefore, when searching for information on mental health, one runs the chance of having their feed flooded with various mental health topics, which may lead to further over-diagnosing of themselves and their symptoms. When seeking mental health treatment, connecting with someone trained in the diagnosis and appropriate treatment is important.