Bravely News

Why Are More Teens Self-Diagnosing?

by Jamie Gundaya

The mental health conversation on social media is bigger than ever. This is great, but it’s also led to an increase in teens self-diagnosing or so-called “TikTok Diagnoses”.

Most, if not all, of us had a “no one understands me” phase in our teenage years. It’s a time where we search for a sense of self and identity.

We probably tried on many different identities, exploring various values and beliefs, before deciding what fits right for us. Millennials might remember having an emo or punk phase in adolescence. (As well as claiming that “it’s not just a phase”.)

With social media, it’s much easier to “try on” different identities because of the anonymity it allows. There is more access to communities for nearly anything imaginable. It also provides a space for people who cannot be their authentic selves in real life.

Social media also allows people to connect with more people who share the same specific quirks and obscure interests, making one finally feel understood.

Why Social Media?

Over 90% of teenagers report using social media. 75% say they have at least one active social media profile. With an average of 9 hours a day online, that’s a lot of time to be exposed to whatever is out there on the internet.

The majority of adolescent social awakening and connection now happens through social media. If in the 2010s, Tumblr was the place for finding others like you to not feel so alone, teens nowadays have more platforms.

One community becoming more popular with teens and young adults is the mental health community. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok is full of users or Creators, professional or otherwise, working to educate the public about mental health and wellness.

It’s honorable work that contributes greatly to change the landscape of mental health care as we know it. There’s a wide array of posts explaining mental health symptoms and experiences.

This raises awareness on mental health but can also lead to potentially harmful self-diagnoses.

Why Is Self-Diagnosing Harmful?

Have you ever read a horoscope and thought “That’s so me” despite how general it was? Mental health posts on social media are unintentionally creating the same effect. Young people trying to understand themselves relate to them so much and start to believe they must have the same diagnosis.

Many people have actually ended up getting correct, professional diagnoses after identifying with something they read online.

However, an alarming number of teens and young adults are now self-diagnosing. They boldly proclaim to have serious disorders they may not actually have. Even without a proper diagnosis, they expect treatment and accomodations.

This isn’t the same thing as people misusing ‘OCD’, ‘depressed’, or ‘bipolar’ from years ago.

Now, there’s a community of young people who genuinely identify as having various mood, personality, anxiety, psychotic, and neurodivergent disorders. Their source: Instagram and TikTok. Others call the social media-driven self-diagnosing phenomenon “TikTok diagnoses”.

What Is A “Disorder”?

For most diagnoses, a qualified professional can only determine if someone has a disorder if they have a “clinically significant impairment”. This and other criteria are defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders.

They may ask the questions:

  • How do your symptoms get in the way of your daily life?
  • How are these symptoms impacting your ability to live your life the way you want?

So while millions of people may experience mental health disorder symptoms, they might not meet the criteria for a diagnosis.

Having many different sides to yourself or different interests and styles doesn’t necessarily mean you have multiple personality disorder. You may experience anxiety, depression, and deficits in social communication but it doesn’t equate to having a disorder.

In the same way, losing things, being forgetful, avoiding tasks that need concentration, struggling with organisation, and losing focus may not be significantly impactful to your daily functioning to be declared attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Your Experiences Are Valid

Even if one doesn’t meet all the criteria to be diagnosed with a disorder, it doesn’t mean we’re invalidating their mental health symptoms.

Anyone at any age can benefit from counseling, therapy skills, and general mental hygiene.

An ideal world would have enough resources for anyone who has concerns about their mental health. We all have to make room for the different ways we communicate, function, or handle distress. Unfortunately, access to mental health services is already limited as it is.

What Can Parents Do?

As a parent, it can be scary if your teen is self-diagnosing with an extremely rare or serious disorder. Many professionals can be booked out for months or even years. Your child may begin to feel more distressed by the lack of help or support.

The first thing you can do is to acknowledge that they are exploring their identity. It’s normal for them to search for an explanation, reason, or diagnosis when they’re experiencing distress or a negative self-image.

They’re asking “What is wrong with me?” As a parent, you can assure them that being socially awkward, forgetful, or “different” as a teenager is fine. It doesn’t have to mean something is wrong with them.

You can ask them why they’re feeling that way. That way, it’s easier to reaffirm their positive traits or help them overcome negative self-talk.

Professional help may be the next step if these symptoms are significantly affecting their quality of life. You can also talk to other adults in their life to better understand them.

Self-Help Helps!

The good news is that anyone can manage their mental health symptoms themselves with good mental hygiene. This refers to habits that help you improve and maintain your mental well-being.

If they’re already on their phone for most of the day, a mental health app can help your child develop healthier mental health habits.

Bravely’s mission is to make these mental health resources more accessible so anyone can have their very own mental health toolkit at their fingertips.

All resources are meticulously researched and written by our psychology and neuroscience experts. They’re then presented in a way that’s easy to understand and implement in your daily life.

You can learn more about us or try Bravely for free here!

Written By

Jamie Gundaya

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