Dolly Doctor

Why are we so obsessed with self-diagnosing on TikTok?

From ADHD to bipolar disorder – we think we have it all.
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Trigger Warning: This article discusses mental health and may be triggering for some readers.

We’re all guilty of staying up that extra hour, or two, watching an endless stream of TikTok videos until the early hours of the morning.

WATCH BELOW: ADHD self-diagnosis TikTok

As we know, there are no boundaries when it comes to oversharing on TikTok. From “trauma dumping” to trauma-ifying certain behaviours – de-stigmatising mental health is an ever-trending topic.

The latest “trend” on the app is diagnosis videos, where creators with mental health issues talk about some of the signs and their own personal experiences.

They sometimes offer up a list of symptoms that led them to determine their own diagnosis, encouraging people to do their own self-evaluation.

This is where it gets tricky. Watching these short clips of creators offering a list of common and often generic symptoms can lead to a misdiagnosis.

Mental health diagnosis videos are always trending on TikTok. (Credit: Pexels)

That’s not to say we haven’t seen this before. Hypochondriacs for one know all too well what it’s like to be convinced of a diagnosis, despite not getting the opinion of a professional.

Although, while we might be privy to a quick search on Google to anxiously check if our migraine is actually a brain tumour, users aren’t the ones searching diagnosis clips on TikTok.

It’s the algorithm that feeds you videos it thinks might be relevant judging by what you like or comment on and how long you linger on a video and scroll through comments.

It adds an extra layer when it comes to believing the content we see because TikTok can be frighteningly accurate with an individual’s For You Page.

And if TikTok is showing you a video about the signs of ADHD – surely that means you must have it, right? It’s not that simple.

To understand more about our fascination with self-diagnosing on TikTok, Girlfriend asked Beyond Blue’s clinical advisor Dr Grant Blashki for his expert opinion, and he said the reason why these videos might be so popular is that they can help reduce the sense of isolation.

“It can sometimes be a bit of relief hearing other people’s experiences, and it also can help reduce stigma,” he said. “When you hear people talking openly about it, you think, ‘oh, okay, everybody else is talking about it, it’s okay for me to’.”

Not only that, but it helps us with “mental health literacy”, which means we’re quite familiar with all the mental health terminology and it can help us better understand it.

But while there are several benefits to this; reducing stigma, feeling less isolated, becoming a bit more literate about mental illness and the prompting of professional help, there are some risks.

“The risks to my mind are over medicalising everyday human emotions,” Dr Grant said. “You can break up with your partner and you’re devastated but that’s not necessarily early depression, it could be sadness.”

“And worry is not always anxiety. It’s okay to be worried about your exam or about COVID or whatever it is, but you don’t necessarily have an anxiety condition.”

“It can sometimes be a bit of relief hearing other people’s experiences.” (Credit: Pexels)

Another risk Dr Grant pointed out is over pathologizing normal physical sensations – meaning some minor things get incorporated into signs of anxiety, even if they aren’t.

“We have this idea called somatization, where people can get over-focused on physical symptoms and they develop what we call hypervigilance; they might be checking their pulse or going, ‘oh my gosh, I feel dizzy, I must be having a panic attack’.”

The way that the algorithm shows repeated examples of a particular mental health issue is another concern, as it has “a risk of exaggerating the frequency and severity of that mental health issue”.

“If you look at one example of a particular mental health system, then your algorithm feed just gets flooded with person after person telling the same story. Then the repetition creates an inaccurate exaggeration about how common that is or how severe it is.”

More concerns include over-identification, incorrect information about diagnosis and treatment being shared, and the trolling or bullying that could arise from people opening up.

“It’s not dealt with in the sensitive way that might be dealt with if you talk about it with a psychologist,” Dr Grant explained.

If you’re wanting to know more about your mental health, help is always available. (Credit: Pexels)

A few things to remember when dealing with this side of TikTok is that every individual’s situation is unique and different, even if you relate to some of it.

“The other thing to do is if you think you’ve got a mental health issue, get professional advice,” he added. “You can also do an online quiz, which will give you an idea about your score.”

Of course, if you are worried, you can go talk to a GP and get a mental health plan and get referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist, where you can get the right diagnosis from a professional.

And if anything, these diagnosis videos can be helpful in encouraging people to make that first step if they are struggling or want to know more about how and why they’re feeling a certain way.

So, it’s not all bad hearing these lived experiences from others or watching these videos, but it’s important not to get lost in the TikTok algorithm, no matter how tempting it is.

If you need help or support for your mental health, please call Beyond Blue on 1800 334 673 or email them here.

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