Opinion: Surprise! TikTok is not a clinical psychologist.
Have you ever zoned out? You might have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Or at least, that’s what some TikTok users would make you believe. Social media is full of these self-diagnosing videos that make generalized statements and try to relate them to clinical diagnoses. But beneath the helpful facade, ignorance marks the face of these videos.
Conversations about mental disorders and mental health are vital to fighting some stigmas, but simplifying the experiences of it degrades those who are actually affected.
I have an anxiety disorder specific to vomiting. On the occasion this is brought up, I am faced with phrases like “I’m pretty sure everyone hates puking,” or “I don’t like vomit either!” While I’m happy to hear about other people’s preferences, an anxiety disorder goes much deeper than that. Social media tends to ignore the complexities within this depth.
Self-diagnosis becomes problematic quickly, given there are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Generalizations can lead to an inaccurate diagnosis of a condition which can neglect the underlying symptoms and worsen the mental illness. These issues arise because many influencers are not certified to give professional advice about conditions such as autism, ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder among many other topics. Only certifiable information can lead to certifiable help.
Those who go through the process of receiving certifiable help may find one of these videos simplifying the symptoms of their condition. This could make them feel misunderstood due to the simplifications provided. Many of these illnesses have complex levels of experience, and degrading the experiences of others destroys the open and helpful environment creators are attempting to foster.
While it creates a discourteous environment, not all of the videos are in bad conscience. Exposure to conversations about mental health is increasingly important in getting support for those who need it. Both therapy and counseling are still stigmatized; hearing stories from others who have bravely sought help can aid in the process of normalization. But there is a fine line between sharing an experience and providing unsolicited advice.
Popular trends across social media express themselves with little sensitivity. I have noticed an increase in unqualified people talking about how to know if you have conditions such as ADHD or OCD. The backtrack of the video is some happy and skippy guitar song. And these videos get a lot of views. This creates an insensitive environment, and instead of creating a space where individuals feel free to express their own experiences, it turns into an arena for minimizing individuality and personal emotions.
Anxiety is often described as being nervous throughout the day, OCD is classified as vague habits of organizing things and autism as social awkwardness. These conditions, however, are far more than that. TikTok is not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the American Psychiatric Association’s manual for diagnosing conditions. The in-depth conversations that are required of these topics can not happen in a three minute video.
Now, the focus of these videos is seemingly on popularity. An individual’s experience with a mental disorder or mental illness is ignored and what follows is the degradation of clinically diagnosed individuals.
For me, it feels degrading when I’m met with the explanation that no one likes vomiting. It’s true. Being sick doesn’t sound appealing to anyone. But these individuals don’t understand what it feels like to not want to enter a room because there’s no trash can in there for the possibility of feeling ill. They don’t understand what it’s like to choose a “safe food,” which is something you trust won’t make you sick — mine is caesar salad, and when I’m doing poorly, it’s the only food I feel comfortable eating.
These things sound ridiculous, but they are my personal experiences with an anxiety disorder. True stories are the most impactful method of understanding, and generalized terms don’t describe the daily tribulations of having a condition.
Challenges in obtaining an official diagnosis are real. The healthcare system is unreasonably difficult to navigate, which puts those suffering from mental illnesses at risk. But the alternative should not be self-diagnoses based on a social media platform.
Qualifications for diagnoses don’t arrive from lived experiences. It is good to be open and honest about mental illness, but there needs to be differentiation between every individual’s symptoms. We need to separate experiences from each other in order to truly value someone’s mental health. This is easier said than done, but priority should not be given to unqualified individuals talking in generalized terms.