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Self-diagnosis in the Age of TikTok

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through TikTok, landing on a clip of a woman in her car listing her symptoms, thinking, “I must have OCD too!” Or maybe you're perusing Instagram reels, where a man in an armchair is leaning forward, spouting symptoms of ADHD and depression. You think to yourself, “Huh, maybe I have both. Add those to the list.”

As humans, we seek answers. We seek community and belonging. The phenomenon of taking to social media to find connection resembles a completely natural human desire to find belonging. 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement with content on social media pertaining to mental health has increased significantly. This is good news for many reasons including breaking stigmas surrounding mental health and increasing a sense of community. There are also reasons for concern, particularly when sources are unreliable or if the conclusion is giving yourself a mental health diagnosis.

Let’s explore some of the benefits and risks in engaging with mental health content on social media platforms.


1. Builds community and belonging 

It is known that many of us turn to social media or other online platforms as a way to feel connection. If you resonate with information being shared from a TikTok, you form a connection to that user. Other users that engage with the content or speak on similar topics can easily expand your feeling of belonging. 

Shared experiences are important to our mental health. When the experiences concern vulnerable topics such as mental health, the opportunity for feeling belonging skyrockets.

2. Breaks stigma 

Historically, it has often been taboo to openly discuss diagnoses or to discuss mental health struggles in general. The rise in this type of content helps to break this stigma. When we see people who look like us or share similar life circumstances who speak openly about their struggles, it encourages others to feel comfortable doing the same. 

3. Increases validation in seeking treatment 

Similar to the point above, when we are exposed to others who interact with therapists, psychiatrists, or the medical system in general, we feel encouraged and more prepared to do the same. People can share tips and tricks in finding the right provider as well as guide people in the right direction to begin their treatment journey.

There are, however, many downfalls to the rise in this type of content. Here are some aspects of engaging with this type of media that can be harmful:


1. Is restrictive and reductive

Diagnosing yourself with a mental health disorder can be extremely restrictive. If you resonate deeply with some symptoms in a video on ADHD, for example, there are nuances that are not fully explored. For example, many symptoms of ADHD overlap with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, sleep disorders, and PTSD (MedScape). 

There are also important differences in how mental health issues present in different populations. Videos often reduce mental health experiences down to a few characteristics without considering other important factors in accurate diagnosis. Factors such as age of onset, sex, gender, duration of symptoms, and interference in social and occupational settings are vital to consider in receiving an accurate diagnosis and receiving proper treatment.

2. Spreads misinformation

According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27% of the faces that we see on TikTok discussing mental health are speaking from personal experience. In a 2022 study, about half of a sample of TikTok videos on ADHD were considered to be misleading. 

It is extremely important to remember that anyone and everyone can post to social media – this is both the beauty and the curse of it. It is wonderful that it allows full access to information, and it requires us to be very critical of our sources.

Advice on dealing with certain symptoms on social media is often not evidence-based. Evidence based research is the gold standard in terms of mental health care, and it is hard to know when a TikTok is making use of this.

3. Keeps people from receiving proper care

A major concern of self diagnosis is thinking this is a good place to stop. Now that a person feels a sense of understanding and belonging, they may not feel the need to seek further help. With no exploration of a potential diagnosis from a qualified provider, it may not be an accurate diagnosis to begin with. 

How should I proceed?

  • Be curious and critical! After engaging with information, take a look at the person’s qualifications. Are they speaking from personal experience? Do they have a proper license and are they using it responsibly? What are their sources, and are their sources evidence-based?
  • Remember that most symptoms are normal human experiences that exist on spectrums of intensity. Your provider can help to determine the level to which symptoms interfere with your everyday life. Your provider can also assist in exploring what the purpose of a diagnosis would be for you. Diagnoses can be helpful, and in some cases, diagnoses can overlook important aspects of the whole person.
  • Take note of what resonates in these videos and bring your thoughts to a trusted provider. Exploration with a professional ensures a safe and appropriate approach to your mental health care.


Mental health diagnoses can be extremely helpful for people to receive proper support, medication, community, and belonging. However, the process of proper diagnosis is incredibly important to ensure that the proper supports are provided. 

If you do engage with media pertaining to mental health, integrate caution and curiosity into your viewership. Connect with a provider to address any concerns or questions.

Further Reading and Resources 

Social Media and Self-diagnosis by Ellen McVay https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/2023/08/social-media-and-self-diagnosis