TikTok Therapy: A Look at the Role of TikTok on Mental Health
The effects of TikTok on the mental health of young people has recently been put into question as a multi-state coalition of attorneys general launches an official investigation on the subject. TikTok rose to fame at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and has since been the platform of choice among teens and young adults. Over the past two years, TikTok has been riddled with controversy, calling into question just to what extent its use impacts the mental health of its audience.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short-form video sharing social media app where users can create and share 15-second to 10-minute videos on any topic. The app is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance Ltd. and is known in China as DouYin, formally called musical.ly. As of October 2021, TikTok ranks as the top 6 most popular social media platform.
How does TikTok work
Users of TikTok film videos of themselves dancing, singing, lip-synching, or acting, among the plethora of things you can do on the platform. Users have ready access to a huge library of songs, filters, effects, and sound bites to spice up and make their videos more attractive and appealing to a potential audience. Users may also add their own sounds or upload longer videos from an external source.
Why do people use TikTok?
TikTok’s initial and ongoing success can be attributed to several factors.
- Video content is easy to digest
TikTok's short-video format allows its users to consume a large volume of content in a short amount of time. That way, the dopamine boost that users get from viewing each short video easily accumulates, making it easy to lose hours just scrolling through content on the platform.
- Customized feeds
TikTok's artificial intelligence engine collects usage data to determine what types of videos a user might want to see, and then curates the ‘For You’ page which provides the user with content that they are most likely going to interact with. This high level of customization makes the app remarkably immersive.
- Connect with like-minded people
The need to belong is a fundamental motivation especially among young people. TikTok provides that easily accessible, virtual environment that allows its users to engage with those who have similar interests and experiences.
Having millions of users utilizing the networking potential of the platform makes it a great place to connect with new people and find friends. It’s an appealing concept to young people who may have difficulty making face to face connections because of introversion or being shy.
Removing what could often be considered as painful elements of physical interaction, users find more freedom in expressing their thoughts and feelings, giving way to liberal ways of self-expression and creativity.
Furthermore, the fame factor is a great incentive as it only takes the right content to get views and the algorithm does not depend on follower count as other popular platforms tend to rely on.
- Escapism and passive entertainment
It’s easy to get lost in the barrage of highly entertaining and captivating user-generated content on topics it thinks you enjoy whether that be productivity hacks, goofy dances, or cooking tips.
- Identity formation
Adolescence is a time when young people try to figure out who they are, what they want to be, and how the want to be a part of the broader community. It is common to refer to adolescence as an experimental phase in identity formation. Usually, young people would seek out trends to test out if these are the things they want to belong and be identified with.
The communities on TikTok makes it easy for these young people to see the kind of things that their peers are trying out and informs them of what they might want to conform with in this process of building a self-image. It can tell them a lot about how they might dress up, speak, and act in certain situations depending on the type of community that appeals to them momentarily.
- A feeling of autonomy, competence, and being connected
The TikTok community is great at encouraging its users to participate, to get seen, and be rewarded for their participation. It is an incredibly empowering incentive to a participating member who may not normally be participative in face-to-face settings, which can bolster their feelings of competence and autonomy.
How does TikTok affect the mental health of young people?
In recent years, there’s been a growing worry over the increasing prevalence of social media addiction. Social media addiction is characterized by the uncontrollable urge to log on and use social platforms to the point of impairing important life areas.
There is a special concern about social media addiction among young persons. Almost 90 percent of people aged 18-29 use social media, and the highest percentage of people who feel that they are somewhat addicted to social media is among 18 to 22-year-olds (40%).
A growing number of research finds that more time spent on social media makes it more likely for people to exhibit symptoms of anxiety, isolation, and hopelessness.
In the US alone, TikTok is estimated to have 80 million users monthly, more than half of which are female, and 60 percent between ages 16-24.
So how does TikTok figure into the mental health conversation, how might it affect teens, and what are some of the legit concerns that parents and guardians must pay attention to for the benefit of their loved ones?
Pros of TikTok on Mental Health
Educational. Possibly one of the most beneficial effects of TikTok on mental health is normalizing the conversation about topics like depression, anxiety, and menta disorders. There are people who might stumble upon an important piece of information that can encourage them to know themselves, understand their situations, and seek the help they need.
Validation. Young people struggling with mental illness who may find it hard to seek the help they need can find support in the app. Seeing other people from other situations carry the same symptoms, experience the same difficulties, and communicate the same concerns has the power of making others in the same boat feel heard, validated, and not alone.
Community. Most importantly, TikTok creates a space that gives users the opportunity to belong, own their voice, and share their own experiences regarding mental health related topics.
Cons of TikTok on Mental Health
Using TikTok and benefiting from its offer of endless entertainment, informational content, and promise of community has its fair share of sacrifices. Using TikTok, or any social media app for that matter, means having your data online which is subject to more than a few valid concerns.
In the context of mental health, the following matters must be taken into consideration.
Exposure to misleading information. Content found on TikTok is not always accurate and young people aren’t always in the position to discern the credibility and authority of a source. Being exposed to unvetted advice can lead to the spread of false information which can be more harmful than helpful. The wrong information can lead to an array of dangerous effects like users self-diagnosing or administering self-treatment.
Increases tendency to exacerbate mental health symptoms. Just recently, psychologists began noticing a wave of adolescent girls, most of whom consume mental health content on TikTok, suffering from conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, and bipolar disorder, among others. It seems that constant exposure to mental health content may be inadvertently harming viewers of these videos, many of whom are self-diagnosing or manifesting symptoms all of a sudden.
Enabling negative body image. Because of the highly visual nature of the platform, impressionable young minds may be led to believe that certain self-presentations, looks, and appearance are more socially acceptable than others. Trends on dieting like “What I eat in a day” or beauty standards like the “Glow up” challenge might reinforce negative ideas about what is considered beautiful, which leads to anxiety over self-image, confidence, and difficulty accepting what is natural.
A breeding ground for the spread of disturbing content. Some disturbing content has slipped through the community guidelines set by the platform. The most concerning include gore content (e.g. beheadings and self-harm), fetishization of murderers, and animal abuse, among others. All these can be detrimental and traumatizing to the users regardless of age.
It's addictive. The steady supply of dopamine users get from viewing each video makes the platform very likely to be addictive. Symptoms of social media addiction include low self-esteem, hyperactivity, feelings of dissatisfaction, social isolation, increased likelihood of anxiety and depression, and problems with relationships.
Privacy issues. TikTok shares user data more than any other social media app. Recent study conducted by Marketing Genius revealed that TikTok tracks its users’ personal data and it’s unclear where that data goes or how it’s being utilized. It’s also unclear what type of information the app is collecting. TikTok uses third-party trackers to collect information about users and user behavior. In fact, these trackers can track what the user does even when they’re not using the app itself.
The prevalence of social media use has exposed more young people to the internet which both carry benefits and concerns. Unmanaged social media exposure and usage may lead to social media addiction and harm the mental health of young users. And yet, it’s inevitable that the app will continue to be used in the near future. That said, users of TikTok must be made aware about these risks so they may find ways to tread with caution, use the app safely, and still reap the many benefits that the app continues to deliver.
Take back control
At Life Intelligence Group, we believe privacy is at the heart of user-centered technology. We build real-world solutions that help our customers find balance in their lives without sacrificing what’s important.
TaskSpur, our newly-released goal setting and productivity app offers a singular place where users can achieve goals by breaking them into daily tasks or to do lists, and track their progress over time, all with the help of their own artificial intelligence assistant.
If you want technology to work for you and not the other way around, check out TaskSpur and take back control of your life.
- TikTok faces investigation into its impact on young people’s mental health
- TikTok Statistics – Updated April 2022
- The 6 Biggest, Baddest, Most Popular Social Media Platforms of 2022 (+How to Wield Their Power)
- Digital Crack Cocaine: The Science Behind TikTok’s Success
- TikTok Finally Explains How the ‘For You’ Algorithm Works
- The soothing, slightly sinister world of productivity hacks
- Social Media Addiction
- Social Media Addiction Statistics
- Is Social Media Threatening Teens’ Mental Health and Well-being?
- How TikTok has become a dangerous breeding ground for mental disorders
- Social media addiction: Its impact, mediation, and intervention
- TikTok shares your data more than any other social media app — and it’s unclear where it goes, study says
- TikTok Therapy: What Happens When Mental Health Struggles Go Viral?