Should you follow the mental health advice you see on TikTok?

Some 83.7% of mental health advice on TikTok could be misleading, a study suggests. — AFP Relaxnews

TikTok is rife with creators offering advice on how to improve your mental health, fight anxiety or detect the symptoms of depression. With millions of users exposed to these tips, it’s a fair question to wonder how reliable they are.

Young people are increasingly using social networks as a search engine. On TikTok in particular, content about mental health is among some of the platform’s most popular; in fact the Chinese giant itself has created a page dedicated to “psychological wellness” that can be found under the heading “mental health” if this is typed into the search bar.

Faced with such a deluge of content, the question remains as to whether this advice is relevant or rather misleading. PlushCare, a platform specialised in booking appointments for doctors and therapists, sought out a clearer picture by analysing 500 TikTok videos with the hashtags #mentalhealthtips and #mentalhealthadvice in July 2022.

With the help of medical professionals, who have an average of 15 years of experience and training from the top 50 medical schools in the US, the platform set out to determine if the tips in the posts presented accurate trustworthy information or presented potential risks to a viewer's well-being.

According to their results, 83.7% of the advice about mental health on TikTok in their sample was misleading. While more than half (54%) of the tips contain accurate information, just under a third (31%) are full of inaccurate information. What’s worse, 14% of the content contains potentially damaging information, and only 9% of the creators of the videos analysed had a relevant qualification to help people in trouble.

While not all advice is to be dismissed, the study emphasises how important it is to not blindly believe all the health information found on TikTok.

According to the study, one of the reasons that these videos are so popular is because consulting a therapist often comes at a high price and sometimes a very long wait time for an appointment. Thus many users prefer to turn to free content. The 500 videos analysed had accumulated 3.5 million “likes”, had been viewed almost 25 million times and reached more than 43 million subscribers at the time the report was published. Those numbers demonstrate just how huge the impact can be.

Be cautious about videos on ADHD

With over 17.9 billion views, content with the hashtag #ADHD (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) is one of the most viral topics on the platform. Videos about attention deficit disorder are everywhere, but according to the PlushCare study, 100% of the content of videos analysed on these topics contained misleading information.

Content on borderline personality disorder (“BPD”) is the second most prone to contain misleading advice at 94%, followed by advice on depression and anxiety (90%).

But while much of the information is misleading, some advice may be correct. That’s the case for half of the content analysed about ADHD, while 18% contained potentially harmful advice. General mental health and well-being tips had the highest percentage of relevant content (59%), while videos discussing trauma had the least accurate with 58% presenting inaccurate information. – AFP Relaxnews

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