To date, TikTok videos using the hashtag #MentalHealth have reached a staggering 58.6 billion views. Meanwhile, those about anxiety and OCD have racked up 20.9 billion and 4.6 billion views respectively. This tells us that TikTok is steadily becoming a platform for people to share their mental health problems and advice with others with similar experiences.
While this has the benefit of reducing the stigma associated with mental health, it can lead to issues like self-diagnosis and the consumption of misinformation. We’ll delve into this in our article and share tips on how to safely consume TikTok videos on mental health.
#MentalHealth and TikTok
According to Semrush, TikTok is the sixth most popular social media platform worldwide. In Q1 2022, it won the title of “most downloaded app” with an eye-watering 175 million downloads, and as of Q3 2022, it has over 1.5 billion monthly active users.
Just as the interest in TikTok has risen over the years, so too has the discussion around mental health on the platform itself. As of December 2022, the top three most-viewed hashtags for mental health include:
- #MentalHealth: 58.6 billion views
- #MentalHealthMatters: 32.1 billion views
- #MentalHealthAwareness: 15.2 billion views
The content under these hashtags ranges from personal stories about living with mental health conditions to tips on how to manage specific symptoms. Below, we’re going to look at the benefits that this content brings to the table.
How can TikTok videos on mental health be useful?
They educate people and destigmatise mental health
One of the biggest benefits of mental health content on TikTok is that it gives people a chance to improve their mental health literacy and learn more about conditions they might not be aware of.
From providing viewers with new terminologies and ways to talk about their symptoms to offering authentic experiences of what it’s like to live with certain conditions, these easy-to-digest videos help to destigmatise mental health and encourage the public to talk about their wellbeing.
After all, the more open we can be about mental health, the more comfortable people can feel in seeking help when they’re struggling.
They give people validation
It can be difficult to cope with a mental health condition when it feels like you’re all alone. Things can be even more difficult when you’re not entirely sure what you’re experiencing is, in fact, an actual condition.
However, with TikTok, it’s easy to find people who are in the same boat—venting about similar experiences and describing exact symptoms. Often enough, this validation is the first step people take on their journey towards seeking out professional help.
Better still, this validation goes both ways! The creators of this content also get to feel seen and heard when viewers leave comments on their videos.
They create a safe space
Many TikTokers provide people with a candid and authentic glimpse into their experiences of living with a mental health condition. By being so open and honest, they’re helping to create a safe space where anyone can start a conversation about their thoughts and feelings.
This sense of community is essential to those who feel isolated from their network of friends and families. Having like-minded people to talk to can help them cope and find ways to overcome their challenges.
They allow people to connect with therapists
Though TikTok will never replace therapy, it has given people who might not be able to afford traditional therapy, or access it for free through the NHS, the chance to connect with mental health professionals.
From therapists and psychologists to social workers and psychiatrists, mental health professionals across the globe are flocking to TikTok to help educate the masses, destigmatise mental health and encourage people to look for professional help.
All TikTok users have to do is look up relevant hashtags to find these professionals, such as:
Whilst these videos can’t offer people the personalised advice and support they might need, some tips may help them reframe their thoughts and ease some of their symptoms.
Unfortunately, for all of the good that TikTok can do in spreading awareness for mental health, it is often undermined by the spread of misinformation and a few other prevalent issues.
How can TikTok videos on mental health be problematic?
They can spread misinformation
Though there are qualified mental health professionals on TikTok who create content based on accurate information and experience, the reality is that most mental health-related content has been shared by those who have had no formal training whatsoever.
In 2022, PlushCare analysed 500 TikTok videos that used the hashtags #mentalhealthadvice and #mentalhealthtips. They found that only 9% of these creators had a relevant qualification, with the remaining 91% lacking any training to support those with mental health challenges.
After looking at the content of each video, PlushCare found that:
- 83.7% were misleading
- 31% contained inaccurate information
- 14.2% contained potentially damaging advice
- Only 1% contained a disclaimer about a lack of mental health qualifications
What was the social reach of these misleading videos? Almost 25 million views and over 3.5 million likes! It’s easy to see, then, why there’s so much concern about mental health misinformation on TikTok.
Misinformation isn’t always intentional
Not all TikTokers will be spreading misinformation intentionally. Often, it’s a result of them assuming that their individual experience is universal. Though their experiences are valid, they’re only small glimpses into a wider, complex condition that can vary immensely from person to person.
By not making this clear to viewers, however, they can make it seem like their experience and advice is applicable to everyone. Moreover, they make it all too easy for people to make broad generalisations about mental health conditions.
They can encourage self-diagnosis
Scroll through mental health-related TikToks for more than a minute and you’ll likely encounter a slew of videos of people sharing symptom checklists for various conditions ranging from OCD to PTSD.
Unfortunately, most of these lists tend to be oversimplified and can, more often than not, be applied to people without the condition—causing some to believe that everyday thoughts and behaviours are symptomatic of a mental health condition.
TikTok’s algorithm can exacerbate this encouragement for self-diagnosis. When you show interest in videos of the same topic, the algorithm takes note and shares similar content on your For You page.
The Wall Street Journal explored this phenomenon in 2021. They set up 100 bot accounts and assigned them different programmed interests. Within 36 minutes of creating an account for a bot with an interest in sadness and depression, 93% of its For You content was related to sadness and depression.
Whilst this personalisation is useful for general content that is designed to entertain, the influx of potentially misleading videos on someone’s feed can cause:
- Confirmation bias: where viewers identify with certain symptoms in videos and confirm that the diagnosis must be correct
- Attribution bias: where viewers attribute a certain symptom to a mental health condition rather than it being a one-off or natural occurrence
Even if you’re experiencing all the symptoms listed in a video, it’s impossible to know whether you have a condition without a professional diagnosis.
They don’t have a support system
Though TikTok content does help to make mental health more accessible, it does not come with a proper support system or safety guidelines.
Most mental health influencers aren’t professionally equipped to provide the right advice to people who are leaving comments about their struggles. Even those who are qualified are left in an awkward position. Whilst they can signpost certain resources, they can’t offer individually tailored advice, and there are only so many comments they can respond to in their personal time.
True mental health support requires a back-and-forth dialogue and tailored advice, which is impossible to deliver on a platform like TikTok.
How to safely consume TikTok videos on mental health
Can TikTok spread mental health misinformation? Yes. Are there shortcomings to mental health-related content on TikTok? Also yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s all useless! Some of the content on TikTok is extremely valuable in raising awareness, reducing stigma and pointing viewers towards valuable resources.
To navigate the minefield that is mental health content on TikTok, however, viewers must:
- Use TikTok for psycho-educational purposes, i.e., to learn more about mental health and wellbeing, and fact-check everything.
- Recognise that while subjective experiences are valid, they are still a simplified or reduced version of a very complex condition.
- Avoid making generalisations or assumptions about mental health conditions based on content that might not be entirely factual.
- Stop interacting with misleading or damaging content to prevent the TikTok algorithm from sharing similar content.
- Find additional resources or professional help when they’re struggling with their mental health.
It’s also vital that TikTok creators try to avoid spreading misinformation by acknowledging their lack of training or highlighting that their personal experiences may not be applicable to everyone with the same condition.
Moving beyond TikTok
Though content on TikTok can help people gather information about mental health, receive validation and become more familiar with conditions that are impacting their daily lives, it is not the same as therapy.
People who are struggling with their mental health will not get better through coping techniques and self-help tips alone. They require a professional to look at their mental health history, symptoms and key issues to diagnose them accurately and advise the best course of action.
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