Tik Tok is Not Therapy

Just because your ex was mean to you does not make them a narcissist. 

I, like so many, have been down my share of internet reel rabbit holes. If I were to follow the advice of several Tik Tok and Instagram mental health stories I might come to believe: All relationships are toxic, any child who has energy or difficulty concentrating has ADHD, my moody family members are bi-polar and should be on medication, but most medications do not work, and therapy is a waste of time. Unfortunately, some of this messaging can cause significant harm as it can be difficult to tease out the healthy information from the unhealthy information. 

The stories and quotes are relatable and there is a lot we can learn from the lived experiences of others. These reels tend to be quick, catchy, and are often set in a nice background with calming music. We can all benefit from messaging that hits home or that encourages us to make improvements to our life. The issue with social media is that no one is vetting the information presented. We therefore have no way of knowing if the person speaking is a licenced professional or officially diagnosed by one. Anyone is able to include hashtags for depression, anxiety, and mental health. The algorithms provide you more of what you watch the most of and sadly, not everyone has your best interest in mind. Messages are often repeated and become familiar. What we see as familiar we often begin to see as true, even without doing the research to explore the validity. 

It is important to remember that only a qualified healthcare professional can provide a mental health diagnosis. Ethically, none of them would vicariously diagnose someone in your life who is not their client. So, what pulls us then to make decisions about others? These reels play on our emotions and speak to our experiences. We often feel seen or understood and this feels really good. The downside is in these moments we often do not consider our own accountability in the relationship. With the exception of domestic violence, it is extremely rare for an unhealthy relationship to be all one person’s fault. Additionally, much of the information presented is not entirely accurate. 

For example, the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder-5 for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is actually quite different than the symptoms often presented in social media. In watching the stories, we can start to only look for the symptoms presented while ignoring behaviour that may be fully in contradiction to diagnostic criteria. Finally, there is a lot more to a diagnosis than meeting the criteria. One of the most important, and often ignored on the internet, aspects of diagnosing is the presence of significant impairment to social, educational, or occupational functioning. A person showing signs or symptoms of a disorder, especially personality disorders is not enough, it also has to significantly impair functioning in their life. 

There are several online sources that can be helpful in learning about mental health. However, none of them are a substitute for consulting with mental health professionals. Please keep in mind that anyone can call themselves Doctor online and it is helpful to use critical thinking skills, research someone’s credentials, and consider the implications of blindly following advice on Tik Tok. If you are looking for a few reliable mental health accounts here are a few to follow: 

Romantic relationships @gottmaninstitute
Mental health in general @the.holistic.psychologist @drjulie @psychcentralofficial @brenebrown @ adamMGrant
Psychology Today @psych_today
Children, youth, and parenting mental health @foundry_bc  @Keltycentre

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.