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Fun fact: Did you know that rewatching a show over and over again is actually a sign of severe mental illness? This claim, of course, has no scientific evidence behind it, yet this ‘viral craze’ whereby many TikTok users mime this sound bite before playing the introduction of their favourite TV show highlights the dangers of colloquialising mental health disorders.
Scrolling through the app, some of these videos attract over 1.7 million likes, and many more viewers that refrain from hitting the like button. TikTok is available in over 150 countries and has over 1 billion users, over an eighth of the planet, with over 60% of these Generation Z users. Exposing this young generation to not only the colloquialisation of language regarding mental health, but spreading widespread misinformation pertaining this topic, causes huge issues that must be addressed.
This is just one of many examples in our modern society whereby mental health disorders are spoken out of context, and it is important to address this due to the impact it can have on those that are experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders. Despite heightened awareness of mental health disorders and increasing support of honesty and discussing one’s feelings, stigma is still rife regarding depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Therefore, there are still many that suffer in silence. For those that are aware of the daily struggles with their own mind, it can be far from helpful when they hear others use their clinical diagnoses as an adjective for how they are feeling towards menial life events. Additionally, I imagine it would be particularly frustrating to hear repeatedly watching your favourite television show is a sign of severe mental illness.
Likewise, this can have a detrimental impact on the consumer of misinformation. As I write this, I stand in good stead as a 25-year-old academic with good critical thinking skills, and although most of my life has coincided with a technological boom, I am lucky to be at this age during this period of extensive misinformation. Many TikTok users are teenagers, that are perhaps susceptible to believing dangerous claims without substance, and without questioning them. Consequently, this exercise can cause serious harm. In a world where information can be so quickly disseminated, it is important that serious claims like those that surround mental health are substantiated. Within academia, there is a process of conducting research, peer-review; before then being published in journal articles. Even then, the reader must actively read the paper to decide whether they agree with the author’s arguments. This process does not happen in everyday life, with many adults, let alone children, accepting information at face value highlighting how powerful language used online can be.
The awareness of mental health issues is fortunately increasing, however, so too are diagnoses, which makes it vital to not undermine them and their sufferers. Using slang terms like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ is a disquieting use of language that may not seem like much to the speaker but may be for the listener. Even more concerning is that this is not limited to face-to-face encounters and there are in-fact examples of widespread misinformation regarding mental health online, which can lead to self-misdiagnosis and false beliefs. It is important for adults to consider the language they use in person as well as online, especially when children are involved. You can feel anxious without having an anxiety disorder, and you can feel low without having depression. Remembering this could help prevent us unnecessarily and inadvertently increasing mental health stigma.
Daniel Walker is a PhD researcher and a graduate teaching assistant at Edge Hill University.