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Dr. Tik Tok: ADHD awareness or self-diagnosis?

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Do you get excited when you see a new notification? Do you find yourself “doom scrolling” for hours on end? Have you already found #ADHDTikTok?

This Tik Tok hashtag represents, with 5.5 billion views, one of the many related hashtags regarding attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Furthermore, the single #ADHD page has, at this point, 18.4 billion views, where you can scroll through hundreds of short videos portraying first-hand accounts of the ADHD experience.

Perhaps due to social media's importance in communications and its role in creating community, content creators have become increasingly focused on mental health,  bringing attention to topics related to depression, anxiety, and, more recently, ADHD. Many of these influencers have told their personal stories related to diagnosis, coping mechanisms, and overall day-to-day experiences.

This can be seen positively, of course. As is with any mental disorder, sharing information about ADHD on social media may be the key to spreading awareness and paving the way to its acceptance; people have started to realize how common this disorder can be. Hence, talking about it helps reduce the stigma surrounding it, especially when the information comes from a source that shares their first-hand experience.

As psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell notes in the introduction to his book Driven to Distraction, in the early 1990s few people knew anything about ADHD (previously known as ADD), and only a rare few doctors knew that it could continue to adulthood and also affect women. Even today, many still hold on to the belief that it isn’t more than just being disorganized and careless, which is not true.

The fact that many content creators have started talking openly about this disorder has facilitated access to this type of information. Studies have shown that excessive social media use has a clear correlation to ADHD symptoms, so it’s no surprise that content creators have used a famously addictive platform like Tik Tok to spread awareness on this topic. As online communities continue to grow, people with and without diagnoses, their family members, and friends have found valuable support, a chance to ask questions, obtain advice, and not feel alone.

For instance, users have discussed their own experiences and feelings regarding ADHD in the comments section of a video created by Peter Wallerich-Neils (@peterhyphen) on TikTok.  

“My mother-in-law used to help me clean my house sometimes, I was so thankful and embarrassed. This was before my diagnosis and I would just cry to her telling her I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I wanted a clean house but I couldn’t make it happen. Diagnosis saved me”, wrote Megan R Speed (@fiestymelon).

Thanks to open dialogs such as this one, where creators share their symptoms, their pre-diagnosis experience, and #ADHDtips that they find helpful for themselves, people have started to feel more comfortable with the possibility of a diagnosis.  

This, however, can prove to be counterproductive. The oversimplification of ADHD on social media can lead to casual self-diagnosis. An analysis of the top 100 most popular videos regarding this topic on Tik Tok revealed 52% to be misleading, according to an in-depth study that analyzed its increased awareness. Also, the study states, none of these videos were uploaded by corporations, health organizations, for-profit entities, or non-profit entities. 

Furthermore, of the 52 misleading videos, not one of them recommended viewers seek out a professional assessment before attributing symptoms solely to ADHD. Which can be dangerous considering some of these include anxiety, depression, dissociation, anger issues, relationship conflicts, and mood swings.

Of course, there is no way to control what people say on Tik Tok, and many speak openly about their diagnosis and related comorbidities, often with a touch of comedy. However, many videos repeat information from other TikToks that aren’t verified by professionals and fail to consider the nuances of ADHD.

Because let’s face it, posts on social media aren’t known for factual accuracy, most of the time, the goal is just to obtain virality rather than share accurate information, and it's essential to consider this while watching these types of videos.

As a result, many young people are self-diagnosing based on superficial characteristics of what this condition can be. By doing so, they contribute to furthering the stigma and creating more stereotypes about what someone with ADHD is like, and this lends to lowering the credibility of how staggeringly tricky it is to deal with. 

At best, these Tik Tok videos are destigmatizing a pervasive mental disorder and helping people find the last piece of a lifelong puzzle. At worst, it can lead to reckless self-diagnosis and further stereotyping of individuals with ADHD. This prevalent condition affects approximately 400 million people worldwide, and while treatment can be relatively easy, a diagnosis can be life-saving. 

So, if you find yourself going down the rabbit hole and identifying with symptoms listed on a series of videos that you binged in an hour, try not to worry, ask your therapist or family doctor if you can get an evaluation before jumping to any conclusions. The more informed you are, the better your chances are of getting a piece of positive information. Trust a professional, not a Tik Tok video.

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