Mental health TikTok has taken off, informing and educating more young people than ever before, on everything from the lived experiences and diagnoses of bipolar disorder to ADHD. Here, we explore both sides of the discussion around whether TikTok should be the new home of mental health awareness.
TikTok during the pandemic
Since its rise to popularity, TikTok has in many ways superseded all other social media platforms. Combining the video-blogging aspects of YouTube, the visual influencer nature of Instagram and community led aspects of micro-blogging sites such as Tumblr, it has uniquely spoken to a generation of people that have been faced with unprecedented adversity and a world turned upside down.
In an environment of psychic displacement, we often flock to spaces that provide a sense of togetherness and community. With lockdowns forcing young people, who would normally find community at school, college, university or work inside, they have been turning to social media platforms such as TikTok.
Those who experience struggles with their mental health have been some of the most adversely impacted by the pandemic. Research from organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggests that young people under the age of 24 have felt the ‘brunt’ of the negative effects of the pandemic on mental health, with waiting lists for mental health services growing to unmanageable levels for the NHS.
The hashtag #mentalhealth on TikTok itself has 15.3 billion views, while the hashtag #therapistsoftiktok has 318 million views. This community is diverse: made up of service users, professionals, advocates and people with lived experience.
“We have a collection of things going on in mental health TikTok. We have the advocates that are showing up, sharing, reducing stigma on medication, reducing stigma on certain types of illnesses. Then we also have therapists on the app explaining things in unique ways, creating visuals or showing the application of how something would show up in someone's life. Then we have real people's voices, with their faces, allowing them to share authentic parts of who they are.”
In this sense, one of the main benefits of TikTok is that it appeals to people, particularly young people who might not be considering professional help, or might not be able to access it. Mahler also said, “We are empowering people to know that treating and taking care of your mental health is vital…In order to thrive, we have to create a foundational understanding of who we are”.
TikTok’s unique ability to facilitate furthering our understanding of who we are, whether by connecting with creators who experience the same struggles as us, or by watching an informative video by a professional, is because it exists in a personal and visual space that many other platforms don’t – not only do we learn when we watch a TikTok video on mental health, we feel as though we are a part of something, and that we know something about the person behind the camera.
- See also: 'How trauma informed care could help identify and treat ADHD'
- See also: 'Royal College of Psychiatry warns children are “bearing the brunt” of the pandemic
- See also: 'Mind’s president, Stephen Fry calls for walk-in services dedicated to young people'
Although the benefits of TikTok’s accessible and easy to understand mental health content shouldn’t be undervalued – there is great value to be found in arming people with a base understanding of accurate psychiatric language, so that people aren’t appropriating or misusing for example – it is vital to also explore the dangers found in depending on a platform such as TikTok for all of your information and even more so for self-diagnosing.
Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at Mind, has commented on mental health TikTok and it’s impact on the younger generation, especially over the pandemic, she has stated that although it is definitely a great place to share experiences of mental health online, it must be “made clear that it’s an individual’s personal experience, and doesn’t constitute medical advice or expertise.”
During the pandemic, cases of anxiety and depression among UK teens grew exponentially, with research headed by Imperial College London reporting that levels more than doubled in comparison to the year previous. As such, an influx of teens onto mental health TikTok isn’t surprising. This was simultaneously matched by TikTok itself introducing ‘wellness warriors’ and the hashtag #WellnessHub.
This created a general atmosphere of encouragement to utilise TikTok as the place to share, discuss, inform and learn about mental health. Of course, this isn’t automatically a bad thing, but with any great volume of people joining the conversation, there will always be the minority that are misguided into incorrectly self-diagnosing, or at the very least misunderstand.
Rosie Weatherley of Mind says however, “It’s really important if we’re using language like ‘self-diagnosis’ that we don’t downplay the valid and real experiences of people who aren’t able to access appropriate healthcare”.
TikTok aren’t taking this influx of mental health content and the users that come with it lightly, on the 15th of September they announced a package of guides on wellbeing and support for those struggling with eating disorders, as well as a set of features or ‘search interventions’ that can actively direct users to immediate support when searching terms such as ‘suicide’.
On this announcement, TikTok said: “We care deeply about our community, and we always look for new ways in which we can nurture their wellbeing.”
Since the internet became an irreversible part of our lives, discussions around mental health have shifted to whatever platform takes precedence in popular culture at that time. It is certain that TikTok has taken up this mantle, and although there are the usual difficulties that come with holding it, the positives, so far seem to mostly outweigh the negatives.
As we head into a future that becomes more and more virtually connected, it is in our willingness to share, listen and learn that progress will find the nourishment needed to plant it’s seeds and grow.