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

Teens are increasingly using social media to self-diagnose their mental health issues, leading worried parents and advocates to say access to real care should be easier.

An EdWeek Research Center survey released this week found that 55 percent of students use social media for self-diagnosis, and 65 percent of teachers say they have seen this phenomenon in their classrooms.

Experts said they too have regularly observed this practice, and the solution isn't as simple as taking away phones or punishing teens who turn to free methods to get mental health advice, when more widespread. It may be difficult to get help.

“All the kids are coming in and I'm asking them, 'Where did you get this diagnosis?'” said Don Grant, national consultant for Healthy Device Management, who previously ran his own practice. Grant said she would get responses like “Oh, there's an effect,” “Oh, I took a quiz,” or “Oh, there's a group on social media that talks about it.”

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

And with their amateurish diagnoses, teens may not only fail to understand their real problems, they may also find solutions — or even medications — that aren't right for them.

This trend is not only affecting the way students view themselves, but also how they view others.

According to an Edweek survey, sixty-eight percent of teachers said they have seen students diagnose others with mental health conditions, while 52 percent of students approve of the practice, with 11 percent saying they do it “all the time.” .

“This is where kids go for information, and they see people like them who have struggled with psychological illness or mental health concerns,” said John Piacentini, director of the Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support and a professor at UCLA. Have been.”

“And these people, many of them have a lot of followers and can be quite attractive. It's natural for teens to want to be like the people they see on social media, and they recognize traits in themselves that may actually be present, or they assume they have these traits. When these symptoms do not actually exist,” Piacentini added.

Young Americans are generally more open to talking about mental health, but they don't have the resources or opportunities to go to a professional, so they turn to what they know.

An Edweek survey found that 72 percent of teachers believe social media has made it easier for students to be more open about mental health struggles.

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

It is much easier for teens to turn to the computer or social media rather than seeking out a professional.

A recent Pew Research study found that 95 percent of teens own a smartphone, and nearly 60 percent use social media platforms like TikTok.

“They are using different social media platforms as search engine tools for different topics, including mental health topics,” Crawford said.

Experts say the best approach parents can take on this topic is to make sure they have access to real mental health experts, to get into their children's world and try to understand where they're looking for answers.

“You want to know where they're getting their mental health information from, how their friends are managing their mental health, and then you can show that to the teen,” Crawford said.

Once you know where they are getting the data to self-diagnose problems like depression or ADHD, parents can use this as a “starting point to discuss this.” That's how you can talk together to inquire about this with their primary care provider. A little further,” he added.

Advocates say schools and teachers need to teach students about social media literacy and how to combat misinformation, to help them anticipate the misinformation they receive on mental health.

And in addition to parents and schools, experts are calling for greater limits on what can be posted on social media sites.

Grant said of influencers, “It's very dangerous, and it's unethical and illegal to give this kind of advice without any kind of background or experience or education or licensing, etc.”

He said giving out false mental health information should be treated like other threats that are banned on some platforms, such as bomb-making videos.

Grant said, “I believe that anyone giving medical advice or psychological advice who is not trained, who is not certified, who is not licensed, I believe is a material violation, because it's dangerous.”

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