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Factitious Disorder by TikTok- How it is Affecting our Kids

Factitious Disorder by TikTok- How it is Affecting our Kids

We are all aware of the many facets of TikTok

Some users post recipes, parenting hacks, musical singalongs, dance videos etc. 

However, there is a darker side to TikTok that can lead us down a spiraling abyss for self-analysis. 

This is the side of TikTok where people share disabilities and various medical and mental diagnoses. 

I have seen a slew of children and teens self-diagnosing themselves with a variety of ailments. Essentially, coming to their psychological intake assessment already ready to 'be' what they think they have. 

So, the question is, are these kids becoming more aware of their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations, or is TikTok sending them down a rabbit hole with no end in sight for comparison of self to relatively vague and perhaps easily applicable symptomatology to a general population?

The goal of therapist creators (in TikTok) is to increase people's exposure to mental health concepts. But many therapists on TikTok are explicit in their bios that TikTok does not equal therapy.

While some of these children and teens may be finally able to piece together aspects of themselves into a diagnosis, self-comparison and exploration can ironically lead others to actually experiencing mental health symptoms, like anxiety.

This is problematic for the children and teens, their parents, and the therapists they seek to support and mental health treatment from because there is an unclear bias as to whether or not the child is fishing to make the diagnosis 'make more sense' or believes themselves to behave or feel in ways that actually do not occur.

All of our kids and teens want to be unique, and this is the budding new trend in 'uniqueness.' 


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TikTok mental health content has exploded. But is it therapy?

The goal of therapist creators is to increase people's exposure to mental health concepts. But many therapists on TikTok are explicit in their bios that TikTok does not equal therapy.

Mental Health Awareness 

Mental Health Awareness has come a long way over the years. 

We began with institutionalizing every seemingly deviant emotion or behavior, to presently curating mental health treatment with a client-centered client-empowered approach through individual, group, couples, and family therapy. Additionally, diagnosing mental illnesses has also come a long way.

In the 1960's we blanketed every piece of sadness, apathy, withdrawal, anger, and anxiety with "Hysteria" or "Schizophrenia."

Later, we realized that there was a wide array of different symptoms that warranted different classifications for diagnosing. 

With this wide array, however, comes the ability to vaguely apply certain behaviors, symptoms, etc. that could easily be applicable to anyone. 


Difficulty focusing?  Must be ADHD. 

Struggling with confidence in social circles?  Must be Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sometimes losing focus while you drive?  Must be Disassociative Identity Disorder. 


With numerous people posting about their diagnoses and symptoms, it has become almost second nature for viewers to think the vague application of such is suitable for them, even without a psychological assessment/analysis. 

The bigger question to ask though, that we will explore in the next paragraph, is how does self-diagnosis serve the person? 


Accountability and Explanations 

Over the course of my career, I have seen a lot of people envelop themselves in their diagnosis as a core part of their identity. 

It serves as a means to explain everything they do, feel, see, and perceive. While this can be helpful for some, it can also be harmful to others. 

More serious and potentially devastating diagnoses like Borderline Personality Disorder can actually make someone feel worse about themselves and even hinder their access to mental health treatment, especially a child or teenager. 

A great deal of the population who has had adverse childhood experiences and poor attachment role models can emulate traits from the BPD diagnosis without actually warranting a full bore diagnosis. The symptoms are vague enough that almost anyone with childhood or relationship trauma could relate. 

Through watching TikTok videos about BPD, a person may find solace in failed relationships by immediately labeling themselves rather than introspectively looking into their behaviors or the behaviors of the partners they choose. 

Additionally, how they interact with family members relationally versus how family members interact with them as well. 

Teenagers are already struggling to learn and navigate romantic relationships and relationships in general due to underdeveloped brains, and seeing themselves as someone with BPD because a young adult on TikTok mirrored their experiences can cause a great deal of anxiety. 


Another diagnosis frequently discussed on TikTok is Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

There seems to be a huge movement in self-identifying with being neurologically diverse among teenagers and young adults. 

Whether a diagnosis is received by a trained mental health professional or one self-diagnoses through TikTok, it seems to almost be trending. 

I have seen numerous Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and TikTok users who all use different language around a self-proclaimed ASD diagnosis or one given to them by a trained mental health professional. 

Some post helpful tips and videos for navigating the world socially and emotionally, others post scathing critiques of various therapies intended for assisting and empowering those with ASD. 

The biggest and most common thread I have seen in these folks however is that the diagnosis provides a sense of closure or comfort for things they have struggled with, whether pertaining to ASD or just some of the more common things a lot of folks struggle with, especially young adults. (Career, education, romantic relationships, etc.) 

This is similar to the BPD diagnosis in that for some, it's a label that they are comfortable sitting with and not moving past. 

For others, it's a label that provides a means for empowerment, growth, and positive changes they make in their lives. 

Particularly for teenagers who struggle with social anxiety or friendships, perhaps due to overuse of electronics or poor role models, this can make sense of their experiences or various social situations they encounter in day-to-day life based on a video they saw posted on TikTok. 

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Conclusion

Ultimately, TikTok's mental health has some positive and negative aspects to it. 

For some people, they have been able to piece together an explanation for experiences of IPV from a narcissist, or panic attacks from adverse childhood experiences. 

As a result of such, they seek out mental health treatment and support to work through their experiences and create positive growth and change within themselves. 

For others, TikTok mental health provides them with a label that keeps them from being accountable and instead helps them blame others or blame a diagnosis. 

This is not necessarily helpful for themselves or others they interact with relationally. It essentially becomes a scapegoat that makes it difficult for that person to move past, and helps them remain 'stuck.' 

The concluding piece of TikTok mental health however is that there can be a little bit of all of us in some sort of diagnosis, but the truth remains as to whether or not the collective symptoms and behaviors impede on our quality of life enough for us to want to work through it and change, or if they are so vaguely applicable that we send ourselves down a rabbit hole of anxiety and over pathologizing.  


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January 18th, 2022

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