April 21, 2024
Health

Teens’ latest social media trend? Self-diagnosing their mental health issues


Teenagers are increasingly using social media to self-diagnose their mental health issues, alarming parents and advocates who say actual care should be easier to access.  

A poll by EdWeek Research Center released this week found 55 percent of students use social media to self-diagnose, and 65 percent of teachers say they’ve seen the phenomenon in their classrooms.

Experts said they have regularly observed the practice too, and that the solution is not as simple as taking away phones or chastising teenagers who turn to free methods to receive mental health advice when more comprehensive assistance may be difficult to get. 

“Kids are all coming in and I’m asking them, ‘Where did you get this diagnosis?’” said Don Grant, a national adviser for Healthy Device Management who previously ran his own practice. Grant said he would get responses such as “Oh, there’s an influence,” “Oh, I took a quiz,” or “Oh, there’s a group on social media that talks about it.”  

Influencers and online groups are “convincing these kids they have all these diagnoses,” he said.

And with their amateur diagnoses in hand, teenager might not only fail to understand their actual problems, they could pursue solutions — or even medications — that aren’t right for them.

The trend is affecting not only how students view themselves, but also how they view others.  

Sixty-eight percent of educators said they have seen students diagnosing others with mental health conditions, according to the EdWeek survey, while 52 percent of students admit to the practice, with 11 percent saying they do it “all the time.”  

“This is where kids go for information, and they see people like themselves that are struggling with psychiatric illness or mental health concerns,” said John Piacentini, director for the Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support and a professor at UCLA. 

“And these people, many of them have a lot of followers and can be quite appealing. It’s kind of natural for teens to want to be like the people they see on social media, and they recognize the symptoms in themselves that may actually be present, or they infer that they have these symptoms when these symptoms aren’t actually present,” Piacentini added.  

Younger Americans are generally more open to talking about mental health, but they may not have the resources or opportunities to go see a professional, so they turn to what they know.  

The EdWeek poll found 72 percent of educators believe social media has made it easier for students to be more open about mental health struggles they are facing.  

Christine Crawford, the associate medical director for National Alliance on Mental Illness, said, “Kids are really struggling and they’re struggling to access the tools and resources that they need to take care of their mental health.”  

It is also much easier for teenagers to go to a computer or social media as opposed to finding a professional.  

A recent Pew Research study found 95 percent of teenagers have a smartphone,, and around 60 percent use social media platforms such as TikTok.  

“They’re using different social media platforms as a search engine tool for a variety of different topics, including mental health topics,” Crawford said.  

The best way experts say parents should engage on this topic, in addition to making sure they have access to actual mental health experts, is trying to get into their children’s world and understand where they are seeking answers.

“You want to be curious about where they’re getting their mental health information, how it is that their friends are managing with their mental health, and then you can have the teen show you,” Crawford said.  

Once you know where they are getting the data to self-diagnose themselves with problems such as depression or ADHD, a parent can use that as a “jumping off point to discuss how together you can go talk to their primary care provider to inquire about that a little bit further,” she added. 

Advocates say schools and educators need to teach students about social media literacy and combatting misinformation, which could help them second-guess incorrect information they get on mental health.

And apart from parents and schools, experts are calling for more limits on social media sites on what can be posted.  

“It’s very dangerous, and it’s also unethical and illegal to be giving out this kind of advice without having any kind of background or experience or education or licensing and all of that,” Grant said of influencers.  

He said giving out incorrect mental health information should be treated like other dangers that are banned from certain platforms, such as videos on how to build a bomb.  

“I believe that someone giving medical advice or psychological advice, who is not trained, who is not certified, who is not licensed, I believe that that is a violation of content, because it is dangerous,” Grant said.  

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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