Regarding social media platforms, TikTok has had a massive impact on the ability of people to consume easy-to-reach content on mental health conditions such as ADHD. The hashtag #adhdtiktok has received eight billion views over the last three years, with some videos claiming to be able to ‘diagnose’ ADHD through how a sound makes you feel.
There are huge upsides to people freely talking about mental health, such as encouraging others not to struggle silently. However, with this easy-to-consume media, clinical psychologist Dr Gayle Watts has seen an increase in people self–diagnosing mental health conditions.
Dr Gayle explains: “I have seen an increase in people questioning whether they might have a particular condition – either because they have heard of someone else who has it or because they have heard/read some information on social media and can identify with some of the traits of that condition.
“Sometimes this doesn’t encompass the wider context of what is going on – for example, people often attribute attention difficulties to ADHD, but attention can be affected greatly by other things like depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties or trauma.”
Some dangers to the individual if they have self-diagnosed with a condition
Dr Gayle explains: “A self-diagnosis could lead an individual to seek inappropriate treatment via health services or self-medicating. For example, people may try certain over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, things like CBD, or even illegal drugs if they have heard that they can help with symptom management. Incorrect treatment may even further exacerbate unwanted symptoms.”
With this increase in self-diagnosis, the lines are becoming blurred between what are personality traits and what are actual disorders.
The dark side of social media self-diagnosis: A warning from a psychologist
A video on a social media platform cannot give a proper medical diagnosis. Instead, they can lead people to think they need to be medically treated because they have certain traits associated with certain disorders.
Dr Gayle has noticed that the line is becoming fainter when looking at mental health conditions and personalities and says: “Yes, the line is becoming blurred. Many traits such as OCD, ADHD, and Autism will be seen in neurotypical people or people without mental health conditions. They are all a spectrum. For example, an individual might place a high amount of importance on things being clean, tidy, and organised, but this doesn’t mean they have OCD.
“Often people describe having ‘a bit’ of something – e.g. ‘I am a bit OCD’, or ‘I am a bit ADHD’. This is not how diagnoses work – you either have them or you don’t (although there can be variations in severity if you do have a diagnosis).”
Incorrect self-diagnosis by many can diminish the impact on those genuinely diagnosed
Dr Gayle says: “There are videos on social media suggesting that if you have a messy side table in your house, this might be a sign of ADHD. This trivialises what it is actually like to live with ADHD and the impact that it can have on all aspects of people’s lives.
“To obtain a diagnosis, you have to meet several different diagnostic criteria, but sometimes people recognise just one trait or characteristic within themselves and think that this means they have an ‘a bit’ of a particular condition.”