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How Modern Media Influenced our Perception of Mental Illness

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Researcher & Writer: Eugena CHAN

Illustrator: Ellie LIU


Nowadays, almost everyone has some form of social media, whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. Because of the ever growing nature of these social media platforms, there have also been countless medical professionals giving their take and opinion about certain illnesses, especially mental disorders. Just a brief scroll on TikTok and you’ll probably come across at least 3 videos that touch on topics like depression, anxiety, ADHD or bipolar disorder etc. So how or why could this be harmful?


Often, these short videos will have someone diagnosed with a mental illness tell viewers what it’s like to live with said illness, how it affects their personal or work life and how they cope with it. These videos are completely fine. Instead, we should be worried about the videos with content like, ‘Signs you might have ___”. This creates a culture of self-diagnosing which can be detrimental to those clinically diagnosed with mental disorders. Most of these ‘signs’ are also just actions that almost everybody does, but because the name of an illness has been attached to it, suddenly, it’s seen as a symptom.


For example, a TikTok that was made and stated that the random ‘shivers’ we often get were signs of anxiety disorder. Now you might be thinking, ‘why would anyone believe that?’, but the truth is, the situation managed to spiral out of control all over several social media platforms. After watching the original video, users took to Twitter to share their shock and surprise that they might be exhibiting signs of anxiety disorder, which then morphed into some people thinking this was a sign of Tourette's, a very real neurological disorder that causes people to experience ‘tics’. This example of a funny video that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously which turned into multiple people self-diagnosing themselves with a neurological disorder is just one case of why mental illness videos can be damaging. Not to mention how some people see mental illness as an opportunity to ‘stand out’ or be ‘different’. The reason this mentality is dangerous seems pretty self-explanatory, but here’s the explanation anyway.


When people decide to view mental illness as something ‘quirky’ and ‘unique’, it takes the seriousness away from people who are actually living with said disorders. In a study conducted by 3 scientists that aimed to investigate the accuracy of the content of 100 videos related to ADHD under the #adhd hashtag, it was found that 52% of these videos were classified as ‘misleading’ and only 21% of videos were considered ‘helpful’. The other 27% was classified as ‘personal experiences’ of those making the videos. This can also enable an environment where illnesses are misdiagnosed due to the lack of input from a licensed medical professional.


On top of that, venting and revealing personal trauma on the internet may actually be more damaging than cathartic. Yes, it can allow people to sympathize or even relate with the creator, but it can also backfire, terribly. Michael Rich, a child psychologist stated that “For many people, disclosing abuse or mental health issues can be traumatic and harmful,” because there is no system in place to control the reactions of strangers. Not to mention how the algorithm of social media works; when you ‘like’ a post, social media will continuously show you content related to what you initially liked. Consistently watching the vast amount of short videos where people ‘trauma dump’ can have two main consequences, either becoming easily desensitized to other forms of trauma or resulting in a destructive effect on your own emotional health. But what can we watch instead?

This might sound a little ridiculous but studies have shown that cute animal videos do have the ability to reduce blood pressure and relieve stress! In a study conducted by the University of Leeds, it was found that watching videos of cute animals decreased the participants’ heart rates and they reported feeling calmer and less anxious. So if you’re feeling stressed about an exam or just need a break from your work, videos of cute ducks just might do the trick.


But, as an avid user of social media, there are definitely some positives in the surge of mental health media content. Excluding the misinformative videos and posts, there are now lots of content that raises awareness for mental illness and shines a spotlight on the difficulty of coping with certain disorders. People are able to find communities that share similar experiences and it allows individuals to feel seen. The feeling of being accepted and welcomed into something typically seen as a crutch is especially important when it comes to reducing the stigma associated with mental health. With the power, the media holds on our generation and the next, we can only hope that the negative bias on psychological well-being will slowly fade.


Next time, when you scroll through your social media and come across mental health videos, remember that information on social media will not always be fully accurate for diagnoses and to always take the advice given, with a grain of salt.



Bibliography

Caron, C. (2022, October 29). Young People on TikTok Are Self-Diagnosing. The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/29/well/mind/tiktok-mental-illness-diagnosis.html


Deconstructing TikTok Videos on Mental Health: Cross-sectional, Descriptive Content Analysis. (2022, May 19). JMIR Formative Research. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://formative.jmir.org/2022/5/e38340


Drillinger, M., Cassell, D. K., & Juby, B. (2022, June 28). How TikTok Became a Mental Health Resource. Healthline. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-to-know-about-using-tiktok-as-a-mental-health-resource


Paul, K. (2022, October 30). What TikTok does to your mental health: 'It's embarrassing we know so little'. The Guardian. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/oct/30/tiktok-mental-health-social-media


Schlott, R. (2022, March 12). How TikTok has become a dangerous breeding ground for mental disorders. New York Post. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://nypost.com/2022/03/12/tiktok-has-become-a-dangerous-mental-disorder-breeding-ground/


What are the health benefits of watching cute animals? (2020, October 7). Faculty of Biological Sciences. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/school-biomedical-sciences/news/article/273/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-watching-cute-animals


Yeung, A., Ng, E., & Abi-Jaoude, E. (2022, February 26). TikTok and Attention - Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality. Sage Journals. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/07067437221082854










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