Dangers of treating mental health influencers as a treatment

Washington Post Reports, as of August, TikTok videos with #mentalhealth in the caption have had more than 43.9 billion views, according to analytics firm Sprout Social. And there are all kinds of creators, with millions of followers, who give out mental health advice without the education or qualifications to back it up.

“I received a lot of mental health content on Instagram and TikTok,” said Tatum Hunter, a technology reporter for the Washington Post.

Hunter has written several articles on this topic, including her last one, How to check mental health advice on TikTok and Instagram.

“The mental health innovator may have a passion for the topic or he may have found that talking about depression and anxiety is really related,” Hunter said. “People relate to it. It reinforces their views and followers. It is important to remember the incentives of social media, which is to draw attention to your content. When it comes to talking about our health, these incentives can be really skewed.”

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The problem is that some people use these creators as an alternative to actual therapy. They may self-diagnose disorders that they do not have, and the platforms do not reliably remove posts that spread false information.

“There are a few things you can do to verify the authenticity of the creator or portion of the mental health content you see on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube,” Hunter said. “The first is to look at the qualifications of the creator. Someone who is a licensed therapist or physician, doesn’t automatically make them a mental health expert, but it certainly helps. Or at least reduces the likelihood that they will spread misinformation. I would also warn people to beware of slippery titles. Like ‘coach’ or ‘expert’. I will note that a lot of people have had poor experiences with licensed healthcare providers, but that’s no reason to give up on fact-finding or turn to people who might take advantage of the fact that we’re all stuck on an ad app.”

Common discussion topics are anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

“If you scroll this content long enough, you will notice these topics,” Hunter said. “Narcissism is one of the things that I think is easy to talk about. If you’ve been browsing on TikTok or Instagram, you’ve likely seen content about dealing with a narcissist or suggesting that your partner or parents are narcissistic. Clinical narcissism is real, and it’s relatively rare, and it’s dangerous Diagnose other people based on the content you see on social media.”

The more you interact with these publications and creators, the more the algorithm will serve them. Being bombarded with mental health messages can result in someone being overexposed to these topics.

“Mental illness is not an identity and it is not a rigid condition,” Hunter said. “You can improve and the community should provide support, not just reinforce the idea that something is wrong with you.”

Hunter understands how attractive these content creators are. Young people have been very isolated during the pandemic, and many people don’t have access to mental health care, or insurance to pay for it, which is an easy way to connect with people who feel the same way you do.

“I can’t walk down the street in San Francisco and scream, ‘I have anxiety! “Having anyone respond to me or make friends,” Hunter said. “So social media helps you reduce loneliness and that also comes with risks.”

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