COMMENTARY

TikTok’s Impact on Adolescent Mental Health

Sammi Wong and Jaclyn D. Chua, DO

August 29, 2022

For younger generations, TikTok is a go-to site for those who like short and catchy video clips. As a social media platform that allows concise video sharing, TikTok has over 1 billion monthly global users. Because of its platform size, a plethora of resources, and influence on media discourse, TikTok is the place for content creators to share visual media. Its cursory, condensed content delivery with videos capped at 1-minute focuses on high-yield information and rapid identification of fundamental points that are both engaging and entertaining.

Sammi Wong

Currently, on TikTok, 40 billion views are associated with the hashtag #mentalhealth. Content creators and regular users are employing this platform to share their own experiences, opinions, and strategies to overcome their struggles. While it is understandable for creators to share their personal stories that may be abusive, traumatic, or violent, they may not be prepared for their video to "go viral."

Dr Jaclyn Chua

Like any other social media platform, hateful speech such as racism, sexism, or xenophobia can accumulate on TikTok, which may cause more self-harm than self-help. Oversharing about personal strategies may lead to misconceived advice for TikTok viewers, while watching these TikTok videos can have negative mental health effects, even though there are no malicious intentions behind the creators who post these videos.

Hence, public health should pay more attention to the potential health-related implications this platform can create, as the quality of the information and the qualifications of the creators are mostly unrevealed. The concerns include undisclosed conflicts of interest, unchecked spread of misinformation, difficulty identifying source credibility, and excessive false information that viewers must filter through.1,2

Individual TikTok users may follow accounts and interpret these content creators as therapists and the content they see as therapy. They may also believe that a close relationship with the content creator exists when it does not. Specifically, these relationships may be defined as parasocial relationships, which are one-sided relationships where one person (the TikTok viewer) extends emotional energy, interest, and time, and the other party (the content creator) is completely unaware of the other's existence.3 Additionally, Americans who are uninsured/underinsured may turn to this diluted version of therapy to compensate for the one-on-one or group therapy they need.

While TikTok may seem like a dangerous platform to browse through or post on, its growing influence cannot be underestimated. With 41% of TikTok users between the ages of 16 and 24, this is an ideal platform to disseminate public health information pertaining to this age group (for example, safe sex practices, substance abuse, and mental health issues).4 Because younger generations have incorporated social media into their daily lives, the medical community can harness TikTok's potential to disseminate accurate information to potential patients for targeted medical education.

For example, Jake Goodman, MD, MBA, and Melissa Shepard, MD, each have more than a million TikTok followers and are notable psychiatrists who post a variety of content ranging from recognizing signs of depression to reducing stigma around mental health. Similarly, Justin Puder, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who advocates for ways to overcome mental health issues. By creating diverse content with appealing strategies, spreading accurate medical knowledge, and answering common medical questions for the public, these ‘mental health influencers' educate potential patients to create patient-centered interactions.

Given the ever-changing digital media landscape, an emphasis must be placed on understanding how adolescents respond to social media in maladaptive or adaptive ways by pointing out the common strengths and weaknesses adolescents share. While there are many pros and cons to social media platforms, it is undeniable that these platforms — such as TikTok — are here to stay. It is crucial for members of the medical community to recognize the outlets that younger generations use to express themselves and to exploit these media channels therapeutically.

Ms. Wong is a fourth-year medical student at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, NY. Chua is a psychiatrist with the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, also in Philadelphia.

References:

1. Gottlieb M and Dyer S. Information and Disinformation: Social Media in the COVID-19 Crisis. Acad Emerg Med. 2020 Jul;27(7):640-1. doi: 10.1111/acem.14036.

2. De Veirman M et al. Front Psychol. 2019;10:2685. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02685.

3. Bennett N-K et al. "Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations." National Register of Health Service Psychologists. https://www.findapsychologist.org/parasocial-relationships-the-nature-of-celebrity-fascinations/.

4. Eghtesadi M and Florea A. Can J Public Health. 2020 Jun;111(3):389-91. doi: 10.17269/s41997-020-00343-0.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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