The Dangers Of Self Diagnosis: Why TikTok Isn’t A Reliable Indicator Of Whether You Have ADHD

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can present in numerous different ways and can have varying effects on people, both in childhood and adulthood. As we understand more about the condition, the ways in which we can diagnose and treat ADHD are evolving. However, recently it has been revealed that a lot of teenagers and adolescents have been discovering they may have ADHD due to recommended videos on the popular social media app TikTok, rather than by receiving an official ADHD diagnosis from a qualified professional. This is a concerning trend that carries implications for the treatment and support of those concerned about their mental health.

Why Trust A Social Media Algorithm To Diagnose Your Condition?

If you’re asking yourself ‘do I have adult ADHD?’, TikTok is perhaps the last place you’d think would give you an answer. While the platform by no means offers any kind of medical diagnosis, some teenagers and adolescents have found that the algorithm chooses to display relevant videos about living with ADHD and how to recognise the signs that you might have ADHD, on the app’s ‘For You’ page.

Guardian reporter Matilda Boseley admits that the app “figured out [she] had ADHD before [she] did”. In the article, she describes how over time, the app builds a profile of you based on the videos you like and the ones that you quickly scroll past. It seems that for a lot of TikTok fans, the app can be “scarily accurate” – helped of course by the fact that the app is built to be extremely addictive, with people easily “falling down rabbit holes”.

Is A Smart Algorithm A Reliable Diagnosis?

While in some cases, people believe they have received unofficial adult ADHD diagnoses from TikTok, this is certainly not to be considered an official diagnosis from a medical specialist. It is becoming apparent that the more we use social media apps like TikTok, the smarter they become – however, no matter how in-depth a profile we build up on an app, there is no reason to believe it can diagnose you with a medical condition.

The best way to get diagnosed with adult ADHD is to visit a specialist clinic where you can do a reliable ADHD assessment. Taking ‘personalised’ advice from a social media algorithm can provide you with an inaccurate assessment of your mental health and influence your perception of yourself. It can also be mentally and emotionally damaging in the long run, particularly for young and impressionable children and teenagers. This could potentially lead to low self esteem and other serious mental problems down the line.

The Dangers Of Believing What You’re Told Online

The real danger of apps acting in place of medical professionals is of course how misleading some of the information could be for young people, and even adults. While it’s all well and good sharing tips for dealing with ADHD and mental health symptoms, suggesting or making the assumption that people are suffering from illnesses which they are not can cause confusion, self doubt and even self loathing.

Self-diagnosis may in some ways feel empowering, and none of this is to say that all information shared over TikTok is misinformed or misleading. However, whether the content is potentially damaging or not will depend on who is viewing it. For example, if somebody has always had suspicions that they may have a developmental disorder, and are of sound mind and able to make a rational and informed decision as to whether they need an official diagnosis, a TikTok video explaining some key signs and symptoms may be extremely useful and encouraging. On the other hand, somebody who is young, insecure and impressionable may watch this content and automatically assume they have severe ADHD, which could knock their confidence and lead them to feeling isolated from their peers. Unfortunately, from the creators point of view, this cannot be controlled.

In many cases, adult ADHD goes undiagnosed – Dr Patrick Concannon estimated that up to 2.5% of the adult population would fit the criteria for ADHD – and there’s no question that ADHD is an extremely complex illness that can present in hundreds of different ways, depending on the individual. But the fact still remains, diagnosis should be left to professionals, and making yourself susceptible to information you see on the internet and on social media apps can be extremely damaging.

What To Do If You Suspect You Have ADHD

Whether you’ve had suspicions before and have been seeking advice from your favorite social media app, or your ‘For You’ page is suddenly filling up with ADHD-related content, it might be time to seek guidance from professionals and get a reliable, clinical diagnosis. However, it’s important to remember that while you may be showing some signs of having a developmental disorder, there’s a chance it may not be the case. Below are some other things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about receiving an official ADHD diagnosis:

  • Communication is key: if you’re worried about the fact that you might have ADHD, the first thing you should do is communicate your feelings. Share your concerns with family and close friends so that they can start to understand – they may even be able to share their own experiences or shed light on some treatment paths you might not be aware of.
  • Help is accessible, and not just online: you may find that switching off and scrolling through a social media app helps you manage your symptoms, but a lot of people find that excessive time online can be a trigger. Help is always available at clinics, where doctors specialise in diagnosing and treating ADHD cases that present in hundreds of different ways.
  • You are not alone: while it’s more common in children, statistics show that over 4% of adults (aged 18 to 44 years) have ADHD.
Mavish Sikander

Mavish Sikander

Mavish is a BABCP Accredited CBT and EMDR Therapist and CBT Clinical Lead at Psymplicity.

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