Diagnosed with Cancer? Your two greatest challenges are understanding cancer and understanding possible side effects from chemo and radiation.  Knowledge is Power!

Learn about conventional, complementary, and integrative therapies.

Dealing with treatment side effects? Learn about evidence-based therapies to alleviate your symptoms.

Click the orange button to the right to learn more.

Teen Influencers- Pop Psychologists?

Share Button

“Teen Influencers as Social Media Psychiatrists” response-

I read an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Joseph Davis on the advantages and disadvantages of teens discussing mental illness on social media apps. As a 24-year-old on the bleeding edge of the Tik Tok and self-diagnosing-mental-illness era, I think this article has some good ideas and some that Davis doesn’t engage with very thoroughly. Right off the bat, the reader can tell from Davis’s tone what he thinks about pop phycology practiced by teens on social media using hot-button words and clinical jargon: It does much more harm than good. I understand his urge to wince at this. 

“When the teen said her brain was stopping her, the challenger (same teen) quickly drew a parallel to struggles with routine demands, such as to “start your homework” or “just get off the couch.” Those afflicted with a “paralysis” that, according to the video, is a symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have brains that prevent them from doing everyday tasks.

Welcome to the brave new world of teen influencers offering lessons in pop psychiatry. Scrolling through other videos marked with the TikTok hashtag #ADHD yields a boundless list of ambiguous “symptoms”–withdrawn, talkative, distractible, spacey, forgetful, disorganized, procrastinating, competitive, clumsy, given to outbursts of anger, binge eating, sleeping in, and on and on it goes. There are videos showing many variations of what ADHD looks or feels like. Some suggest that while ADHD differs from “normal” experience, sufferers may have special abilities or be hyper-productive. Throughout all of them, neuro talk prevails, with references to brains and dopamine and faux-clinical descriptions of the “ADHD type.”

It’s true that there is a lot of this content on social media. In a new age where the importance of mental health and therapy is catching on, the youngest and most online generation uses social media to share stories and experiences relating to mental illness.

Davis, like many others, seems concerned that this discourse could be misleading. Sure, these Tik Tok users mean well, but Davis mentions that they are sometimes quick to self-diagnose or draw conclusions about mental illness without professional counseling. It also seems easier to feel like an authority when someone is picking up the clinical terminology, symptoms, and all the jargon involved online and in therapy. This style of mental health discussion has become trendy and acceptable  because of the social media echo chamber as well.

This is an issue for two reasons. Firstly, this seems like an unhealthy mindset to use when thinking about one’s own mental illness, which is what Davis is saying in his piece.

“These student reflections are, of course, neither representative nor exhaustive. But they suggest that diagnostic categories and brain talk are all too often being used in ways that have very little to do with mental illness. On social media, this language helps its users explain and negotiate obstacles to the achievement of social ideals, but it finally ends up reinforcing the view that there is nothing flawed, amiss, or even unhealthy about the ideals themselves. Talk of symptoms and disorders never challenges whether trying to be “perfect,” “the best of the best,” or “special” might be a problem–even the main problem–because the ideals remain the standards against which the deficits are defined. Far from freeing, social media pop-psych ends up drawing kids even further under the spell of social ideals that are contributing to the very sense of inadequacy they are seeking to escape.”

Davis hits the nail on the head here by saying that the social-media pop-psych consumption serves to give these people a predisposition to their own mental illness, but it also reinforces that “there is nothing flawed, amiss, or even unhealthy about the ideals themselves.”

He’s beating around the bush a little here but I think Davis has an issue with the idea that a mental illness is something that should be an acceptable personality trait. That is to say, something that remains part of someone forever. This is hard to talk about because there is a stigma against those with mental illness. These content creators on the internet have also done the psychology community a service by helping make mental illness a common topic of conversation, not something to feel ashamed of. I would much rather have these people online making these videos about mental illness even if they are misleading than not making them at all.

That being said, those that have something like ADHD, as Davis used as an example, should be working to get rid of their ADHD symptoms, not settling in and making it a part of themselves. Ideally, the mindset should be “I am not ashamed of my ADHD but I’m working on getting rid of it so I can better myself.”  It seems like the young online generation gets lost in this nuance and settles into their mental illnesses, maybe even using it as an excuse. This however is a small price to pay for the destigmatization of mental illness and I think these are just growing pains for the community.

Alex Emerson

Leave a Comment: