Reports of young teens self-diagnosing themselves with autism, ADHD, depression, and agoraphobia after watching TikTok videos are beginning to surface.
Many TikTok creators and influencers share recipes, make up dances, or present their personal stories. For some, discussing their mental health is a way to break taboos and shed light on certain conditions.
However, teens consuming this content have begun to absorb these identities and conditions as their own.
Larry D. Mitnaul, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, told CNN, "Teens are coming into our office with already very strong opinions about their self-diagnosis. When we talk through the layers of how they came to that conclusion, it's very often because of what they're seeing and searching for online and most certainly through social media."
Mitnaul says the most common conditions that teens are diagnosing themselves with are ADHD, autism, and dissociative identity disorder. He says the shift began in 2021, when teens were walking through his door with their diagnoses.
This isn't the first time the internet or social media have been used for self-diagnosing. WebMD and Reddit platforms are examples of self-diagnosing platforms. However, being presented with images at a rapid pace, like on TikTok, may intensify feelings and encourage consumption. In 2022, the hashtag #ADHD had 6.3 billion views. That number is only increasing.
TikTok told CNN that they have added a "maturity score," for certain videos for mature content. They have also implemented a tool for parents to filter hashtags or words.
In May 2023, the US Surgeon General issued a warning that social media present a "profound risk of harm," for young people and is linked to mental health issues.
While social media is a tool for spreading news on mental health awareness, linking communities to one another, and finding folks to identify with and feel less alone, it can also pose damaging risks for young people who are still impressionable.
What can be done? Parents should monitor their teens' social media usage — as most teens spend upwards of nine hours a day on their phones — and make sure they aren't self-identifying with videos or creators in a harmful manner.
- Banner Health. TikTok and the Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders.
- European Psychiatry. Is TikTok Increasing the Number of Self-Diagnoses of ADHD in Young People?