American teens are diagnosing themselves with rare mental disorders based on bad medical advice from TikTok, therapists warn.
Therapists from across the country are speaking out after seeing a wave of teens approaching them with self-diagnosed mental health issues they found on TikTok.
Doctors warn that these misdiagnoses could result in a person not receiving proper treatment for a condition they really have, or even convincing a person who is fine that they are not feeling well.
They report that the problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when children turned to social media for comfort rather than mental health services or their peers.
It comes just days after a report found that the app was spreading poor diet and nutrition advice that could cause eating disorders and self-esteem issues.
dr. Annie Barsch, a psychologist from the Chicago area, said she now feels like she’s competing with TikTok influencers in providing care.
“It’s almost as if, as a professional – with a master’s degree, a clinical license and years of experience – I’m competing with these TikTokers,” she told the New York Times.
The video platform has come under fire in recent years for allowing dangerous “health trends” to spread to young impressionable users.
Doctors have previously warned of dangerous viral trends on the app, such as cooking chicken in the cough medicine NyQuil and “vaping” a person’s vagina with perfume.
While experts say it’s valuable for young people to form online communities around shared struggles, in these cases they do more harm than good.
TikTok’s user base is very young, with 60 percent of users between the ages of 16 and 24.
Experts warn teens are getting bad advice on TikTok, causing them to self-diagnose with rare mental illnesses without seeking a medical professional (file photo)
Annie Barsch (left), a therapist in Chicago, said she feels she has to “compete” with TikTokers to give her patients good medical advice. dr. Mitch Prinstein (right), the chief science officer of the American Psychological Association, said it’s disheartening to see young people turning to TikTok for advice rather than medical professionals.
dr. Mitch Prinstein, the chief science officer of the American Psychological Association, warns that it is “incredibly easy” for a person to misdiagnose themselves.
Kianna, a 17-year-old high school student from Baltimore, Maryland, who refused to share her last name, said her self-esteem began to decline when she spent hours on TikTok during the Covid pandemic.
She was cut off from face-to-face interaction with her friends when schools closed in 2020 and her anxiety worsened and turned into trouble sleeping.
TikTok is promoting ‘toxic’ food cultures for teens and young people around the world, scientists say.
They issued the warning after analyzing 1,000 of the most popular videos — viewed more than a billion times — with fitness or food-related hashtags.
The study found that the advice in the videos was poor quality, unsupported by evidence, and often promoted unhealthy relationships with food.
Most of the dietary advice came from influencers, who are not experts and instead became famous for being attractive or charismatic.
dr. Lizzy Pope, a dietitian at the University of Vermont who led the study, said: “Every day, millions of teens and young adults receive content on TikTok that paints a very unrealistic and inaccurate picture of food, nutrition and health.
“Getting stuck in weight loss TikTok can be a very difficult environment, especially for the main users of the platform, who are young people.”
TikTok in particular is an attractive app for young people, with 60 percent of the user base between the ages of 16 and 24.
Younger people are especially vulnerable to eating disorders.
They most often develop between the ages of 12 and 25 and affect about three percent of women at some point in their lives.
TikTok introduced her to a condition called depersonalization disorder, a rare disease in which a person has the feeling of observing themselves from outside their own body.
It’s relatively rare — it affects about two percent of people — but Kianna was convinced by personalities on the app that she was experiencing it.
After believing she had the condition for some time, she eventually returned to school and her mental symptoms subsided when she was reunited with friends.
A school psychologist was the first expert to analyze her for depersonalization disorder, nearly a year after her self-diagnosis, and found she had none.
While Kianna accepted that she didn’t struggle with the condition, experts warn that this isn’t always the case.
Ms. Barsch said teens often declare they have a particular condition after experiencing just one symptom — even telling a therapist they’re wrong.
dr. Prinstein warned that this kind of TikTok advice often lumped serious conditions into a few symptoms that are not consistent in all cases.
He explained that what an adult may experience as symptoms of depression may be different than what teens may feel.
It can also be difficult for a person to be aware of what psychological symptoms they may be experiencing themselves.
As a result, Dr. Prinstein says, an outside expert — such as a therapist — is needed to observe a person and make an accurate diagnosis.
Sarah Anne Hawkins, a marriage counselor from Minneapolis, Minnesota, told the NYT that she has seen a similar phenomenon among young people.
Three of her recent clients had self-diagnosed misophonia, a condition in which a person has a “fight-or-flight” response to common, often unnoticed, sounds.
It’s not entirely rare, affecting up to one in five people to varying degrees, but proper diagnosis requires investigation by a medical professional.
One in three patients actually had the condition — and benefited from learning about it online. However, the other two had been misdiagnosed.
The son of Dr. Hawkins, Ronan Cosgrove, 16, is an avid TikTok user who told the Times that many kids his age have joined the “trend” of self-diagnosis.
“On TikTok, they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m this, and look how cool I am,’ and then people will look up to those people — and it’s just so skewed and not, like, reality… it’s so easy to get tied up,’ he explained.
dr. Prinstein said these cases are discouraging. They show a teen seeking a sense of community or not trusting adults around them enough to seek help.
TikTok has come under fire in recent weeks for promoting other unhealthy habits.
A study led by researchers at the University of Vermont and published last week found that much of the nutritional advice on the app is misinformed and harmful.
Researchers claim that some of the app’s popular users are promoting harmful and ill-considered advice that could fuel eating and body image problems in young people.
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