Self Diagnosis Among the Youth is Running Rampant. Is it Dangerous?

Jeff Guenther, LPC on Nov 07, 2021

If you’re not plugged into social media today, especially TikTok, then you might be missing out on one of the biggest mental health movements we’ve ever seen. Because of it, destigmatizing therapy may be at an all time high. However, there is possibly a very dangerous side effect that is occurring.

Middle schoolers, high schoolers and college kids are making videos and posting them online about their struggles with mental health disorders. These young people are explaining their symptoms in detail and helping their peers figure out if they’re suffering from the same issues. Videos about ADHD, dissociative identity disorder (DID) and Tourette’s are among the top trending issues. It sounds innocent until you start noticing that more kids than ever are self diagnosing and starting to display some pretty severe symptoms.

Some therapists and parents are having a very hard time understanding what’s going on and how to handle the sudden uptick in young people self-reporting mental health diagnoses. The concerning part for some therapists and parents is not that kids are more educated about their psyche but that having a mental health issue is being viewed as trendy, like the more diagnoses a kid has, the more interesting and cool they are to their peers. Therapists and parents fear that kids think it’s not interesting to be well adjusted and if you want to be trendy, you might feel forced to suffer from the most popular mental health disorders trending online.

To be fair, there are many kids that are not simply trying to collect all the diagnoses and wear them as a badge to hang with the in-crowd. Some are really just trying to understand themselves better. Many kids are advocating for themselves while trying to educate their peers. It’s heartwarming to see the youth come together and boldly be so vulnerable. Some of their struggles are pretty serious. They’re using TikTok to be transparent about their journey and finding other people that are going through the same thing. Not to mention, finding a therapist and then being able to afford that therapist is out of reach for many young people today. Which means that receiving an official diagnosis from a professional may be completely out of the question. Trying to figure out what your diagnosis might be from TikTok can act as a springboard to receiving the help and treatment you deserve.

A lot of therapists and parents are viewing this mental health epidemic among the youth as just a phase, a very normal developmental stage that we’ve all gone through to some extent. Maybe in your day you identified as a hippie or you spent some time being a punk or anarchist. Maybe you went through a goth or emo phase. All innocent enough when we look back on those good times (or awkward and embarrassing times depending on your experience), but some folks feel like this go around is different, that kids suddenly talking about their DID and all their “alters” they have or their severe ADHD symptoms that requires heavy medication and independent educational plans has a different feel and could potentially lead to some longer term issues.

Recently, there has been an increase in teens that are displaying pretty serious Tourette-like tics and experts are linking it to TikTok videos that are being continuously viewed by these children. The fear is that this could continue to happen if kids keep watching hours of videos about different mental health disorders.

Some therapists report that they are having a harder time treating these kids because if they challenge them about their self diagnosis, they feel offended and deeply invalidated. Parents are reporting this as well. It’s disempowering to therapists and parents because they’re afraid to say anything. There is a worry that if kids diagnose themselves with something that isn’t actually there, then they may solidify it into adulthood. Therapists are afraid that they’re “trying on” these diagnoses, which then creates symptoms that may have never been there in the first place. If you’re experiencing this as a therapist, you may feel pretty powerless and helpless.

There is a real problem with adults not listening or believing young people these days. Kids are so easily disregarded when they are just trying to advocate for themselves, so this isn’t just a made-up problem. But when some therapists start to question these self diagnoses, all of a sudden therapists are seen as the oppressor even though all they want to do is provide safety and time to continue to mature.

We seem to be at an interesting crossroads. Mental health stigma is finally starting to decrease, but mental health disorders may be at an all time high. Is this because we are becoming more educated, aware and accepting of how everyday life is affecting our psyche or have we swung too far in the other direction to the point where we are watching our kids over-identify with disorders that they aren’t even suffering from?

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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