The dangers of “DIY” diagnosing on social media
TikTok, like many social media platforms, has become a go-to place for people to share their life stories, feelings and experiences with the world. But there is also an alarming trend of using these platforms to self-diagnose mental health conditions.
Self-diagnosing a mental health condition is difficult to get right. Mental health is complex and requires professional expertise and knowledge. If someone scrolls through TikTok and comes across a post about relatable mental health topic, they may be quick to assume the condition applies to them.
But before jumping to conclusions, Andree Miceli, Regence’s clinical director for behavioral health, says it’s best to talk with a professional first. “If you come across a post where someone is sharing their symptoms of depression, it can be natural to think you might have depression, too, especially if you’re experiencing similar feelings of sadness or lack of energy,” says Miceli. “This is where talking to your primary care provider or another health care professional can help. They can help you identify your feelings, uncover other possible issues, and determine if you need treatment.”
What’s the appeal of TikTok?
One reason people may turn to apps like TikTok to diagnose themselves is because they can offer a sense of comfort for those seeking to connect with others who share similar experiences. TikTok’s format allows for easily digestible videos that appear in a never-ending algorithmic feed, giving people immediate access to information that can make them feel seen or understood.
However, the information isn’t always accurate or reliable. A recent study analyzing 500 TikTok videos with hashtags like #mentalhealthadvice found that 83.7% of the shared mental health advice was misleading; and 14.2% of the studied video content was potentially damaging. With 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiencing a mental illness each year, it’s important to find credible content and then seek professional help.
“There can be a lot of misinformation circulating online, and people who are not trained or qualified in mental health can easily misinterpret the symptoms and causes of mental health conditions,” says Miceli. “Eating disorders are especially hard to identify over social media because they can involve a combination of physical, psychological and social factors. Self-diagnosing an eating disorder can lead to further harm as people may not fully understand their condition.”
Self-diagnosing can also lead to stigma and shame. When someone self-diagnoses, they may feel like they have failed or that they are somehow to blame for their condition. This can lead to a delay in seeking proper treatment and other potential long-term issues.
Use what you see online to talk to a health care professional
While some consider self-diagnosing a first step in recognizing the need for help and support, that step is only advisable if it’s followed by seeking guidance from licensed mental health professionals.
“It’s important to remember that mental health is a serious health matter that should be addressed only by professionals,” says Miceli. While social media can be a convenient source of support and information, it should never be used as a means to self-diagnose mental health conditions. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health – and it’s worth taking seriously.”
We’re here to help
Whether you may need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, we can help you find the behavioral health care option that’s right for you. In addition to our network of therapists, counselors and psychiatrists, you can find mental health resources and care options at regence.com.
If you’re experiencing a mental health emergency, dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 support to anyone who’s depressed, needs to talk or is thinking about suicide.