Most everyone has had that moment where you feel unwell and look up your symptoms online, only to panic a few minutes later when you notice that the symptoms resemble a more serious condition. Something similar is now happening on social media websites like TikTok, but instead of listing physical symptoms, people are listing signs of rare mental disorders.
Psychologists and mental health professionals are sounding alarm bells to warn that these user-created videos should not be considered a diagnosis.
“People can be easily convinced that they have a rare condition just based on what they see on social media,” says John Delatorre, a licensed psychologist who works in Arizona and Texas. “Like those who strictly adhere to comments about astrological signs, the general nature of describing the symptoms of a mental disorder may cause people to apply that generality to their own behavior.”
Delatorre further noted that people are more comfortable getting their information from sources they deem “credible” — which can range from age, appearance and other physical aspects.
“People listen to those they resemble, and if they find someone on social media who speaks to them in a language they understand, that person is more likely to believe what that person is saying,” Delatorre said.
While this isn’t always a problem when certified mental health professionals give general life skills tips, it becomes a potential danger when untrained people make amateur armchair diagnoses.
Rare mental disorders such as borderline personality, bipolar and dissociative personality disorders have hashtags devoted to them with billions of views, when in reality these disorders have been professionally diagnosed in less than 3% of the world’s population, according to multiple studies from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Statistical reports published by the National Institute of Mental Health show that anxiety and depression are much more common in the US. Current statistics estimate that 31.1% of Americans will experience an “anxiety disorder” at some point in their lives, while an estimated 19.4 million American adults have experienced “at least one major depressive episode” in 2019.
“Social media can definitely influence individuals, especially when symptoms seem similar, and without much explanation or formal assessment,” said April Krowel, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist at The Brain Center. “My practice has seen an increase in people of all ages requesting appointments because of something they saw specifically on TikTok.”
While Krowel sees problems with diagnoses through social media, she told Fox News Digital that “it could be positive by raising awareness of ‘hidden’ conditions people live with.”
When people do not seek professional advice about the symptoms of a mental disorder they have heard of, they are often confused or misled. The end result could potentially paint a worse picture if the content creator is oversimplifying, misreported, or downright falsified first-hand accounts or diagnoses.
“Mental health professionals would make a thorough assessment by comparing and contrasting a person’s problems in different contexts — such a diagnosis would usually involve a very lengthy assessment, not a 3-minute conversation,” said Dr. Naomi Murphy, a forensic psychologist and co-founder of Octopus Psychology. “If you’re really concerned about your mental health, find a mental health professional.”
A TikTok spokesperson told Fox News Digital: “We care deeply about the well-being of our community, which is why we continue to invest in digital literacy education to help people evaluate and understand the content they use online. We strongly encourage individuals to seek professional medical advice if they need support.”