On top of inundating teenagers with content produced by wannabe hookers-in-training glorifying BDSM, kinky sex and other prurient subjects, much to the chagrin of responsible parents everywhere, TikTok is also facing criticism for convincing teenagers that they have (sometimes rare) mental disorders, everything from ADHD to Borderline Personality Disorder, and beyond.
The news initially appeared in WSJ, which spoke to several teenage high school students about their experiences with the app. One, a young woman named Samantha Fridley, who claims she was diagnosed with depression at age 10, told WSJ she had stayed up until 0300 in the morning while watching an endless stream of videos about BDP and other rare disorders like bipolar disorder and multiple-personality disorder.
Many of these videos are being made by teenagers or twentysomethings who try to portray themselves as “experts”, but who in fact have no formal experience treating mental illness. Some encouraged viewers to perform their own self-diagnoses at home, convincing young impressionable adults that they have serious disorders.
It’s becoming a problem since young people who manage to convince themselves that they have these disorders might be more tempted to indulge in borderline behavior in an effort to convince themselves, and others, that the diagnosis is legitimate.
TikTok videos containing the hashtag #borderlinepersonalitydisorder have been viewed almost 600MM times. However, only 1.4% of the US adult population is believed to experience the disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Multiple-personality (otherwise known as dissociative-identity) disorder is even rarer, afflicting 1% of the population, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Videos containing the hashtag #dissociativeidentitydisorder have been viewed well over 700M times on TikTok. Many of the videos feature teens and young adults as they appear to switch from one personality to another.
One mental health expert said TikTok videos that help to de-stigmatize mental illness can be helpful. But self-diagnosing teens have been inundating mental health providers, potentially creating problems for the whole system. That same provider said they were surprised when they saw the sheer volume of videos about MPD, considering how extremely rare it is.
Some even worry that bombarding teens with this type of negative content might potentially alter their brain chemistry.
“We have to convince these kids to release their self-diagnoses but when they leave us they go right back into that TikTok community which reinforces their beliefs,” said Don Grant, executive director of outpatient services for Newport Healthcare’s teen treatment center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Grant hasn’t kept a tally of the teens who use TikTok to self-diagnose, but he told WSJ the number was “significant.”
This is just the latest report to raise questions about the TikTok algorithm, which is considered a trade secret by TikTok owner ByteDance and is closely guarded. The company says it’s working on tweaks to the algorithm that could protect teens and other users from being over-exposed to just one type of content.
Any parents who are concerned about their child’s self-diagnosis are encouraged to sit back and listen to the teen before making judgments. But if they refuse to change their minds, it might be time to force them to delete the app entirely.