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Alarming TikTok trend has many teens self-diagnosing mental health disorders

 Staci Person, Ph.D., C. Psych is encouraging parents to talk to their teens about mental health.
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 By Staci Person, Ph.D., C. Psych

TikTok is a popular social media platform hosting 15-second video clips about various topics, including mental health. Within the past year, an alarming trend has surfaced, with many teens self-diagnosing conditions such as borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, and OCD, to name a few. Positively, TikTok has started important conversations about mental health that in turn helps to reduce stigma. The platform also serves as a source of support for many, but the trouble is, this new trend has many teens believing that they have a serious mental health disorder. Moreover, viewing mental health content daily can make it seem like these disorders are more prevalent than they are.

While many TikTok creators (especially licenced healthcare providers) post helpful information, it is not always accurate, and teens can be especially impressionable by their peers sharing personal experiences with mental health. Making a diagnosis is a complicated process and a diagnosis should only be made by trained professionals. There are often subtle differences between various disorders that can be missed by the untrained eye. In fact, a recent study published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry investigated the quality of 100 ADHD videos on TikTok and found that 52% of them were misleading. Experiencing symptoms is different from having a disorder, the latter of which requires a cluster of severe and persistent symptoms with associated impairment in functioning. For example, many of us have experienced trouble concentrating, especially amid a global pandemic, but this experience is not equivalent to having an ADHD diagnosis.

For some teens, TikTok content might be their first exposure to mental health topics. Parents are encouraged to talk to their teens about mental health and to teach them how to ‘check the facts’ to ensure that they are getting information from reputable sources. If your teen suspects that they have a mental health disorder, the best course of action is to speak to a professional, like a family physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist.