TikTok’s Impact on Mental Health: The Emergence of a “Sick-Role Subculture” Among Teens



Psychosomatic Social Contagion

In a recent study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, researchers shed light on a concerning phenomenon, termed “psychosomatic social contagion,” emerging among children, particularly teenage girls, on TikTok.

The study suggests that the platform’s unique culture is giving rise to a “sick-role subculture,” where adolescents adopt characteristics of rare psychiatric diagnoses, such as Tourette’s, eating disorders, autism, and dissociative identity disorder (DID).

“Psychosomatic social contagion” allows teens to express extreme negative emotions within a community that not only accepts but also glamorizes these conditions.

The Rise of “Psychosomatic Social Contagion” on TikTok

Researchers, including John D. Haltigan from the University of Toronto, Tamara M. Pringsheim from the University of Calgary, and Gayathiri Rajkumar from Western University, highlight the emergence of what they term “psychosomatic social contagion.”

They argue that young girls on TikTok are identifying with and glamorizing rare disorders as a means of expressing extreme negative emotions.

This, rather than stigmatizing them, creates a sense of community and uniqueness.

TikTok’s Impact on Youth Mental Health

Unlike earlier social media platforms, TikTok’s short-form video content has a more profound impact, making it the most widely used social media site for children and teens.

The study draws parallels to the early 2010s when content promoting eating disorders and self-harm gained traction on platforms like Tumblr and Instagram.

However, TikTok’s influence is noted as more potent in shaping perceptions and behaviors.

Case Study: A 14-Year-Old’s Experience

A CNN report illustrates the impact of social media on mental health, citing a 14-year-old girl who self-identified with content creators on TikTok.

Convinced she had various diagnoses, including ADHD, depression, autism, mysophobia, and agoraphobia, the girl’s mother noted a pattern of adopting new diagnoses each week based on what she saw online.

Functional Tic-Like Behaviors (FTLBs) and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

The researchers highlight specific instances, such as the emergence of “functional tic-like behaviors (FTLBs)” in teenagers after exposure to TikTok content.

Traditional Tourette’s syndrome manifests in early childhood, but FTLBs present suddenly in adolescence with more noticeable and complex movements.

Additionally, the study delves into the rise of DID, an exceedingly rare diagnosis, on social media platforms, with groups glamorizing and sexualizing the disorder.

Social Media’s Role in Reifying Psychiatric Diagnoses

Despite the rarity of these psychiatric diagnoses, especially in youth, the study emphasizes the explosive growth of online communities centered around them.

Social media platforms provide a space for self-diagnosis, where individuals can express their perceived “illness” as part of their online identity.

The researchers argue that the online environment acts as a scopic medium, allowing individuals to claim various “neurodivergent” identities without a biological basis or empirical reality.

Implications for Mental Health Stigmatization and Awareness Campaigns

The findings challenge prevailing notions around mental health stigmatization and awareness campaigns.

Rather than destigmatizing mental health issues, the study suggests that online communities tend to romanticize psychiatric diagnoses, paradoxically making individuals feel special within their virtual communities.

The researchers point to an online “neurodivergence” ecosystem where mental health symptoms are viewed more as consumer identities or character traits than genuine mental health concerns requiring professional attention.

As TikTok continues to dominate the social media landscape for children and teenagers, the study calls for a nuanced understanding of the impact it has on youth mental health.

The emergence of the “sick-role subculture” highlights the need for proactive measures to guide adolescents through the complex online environment, emphasizing the importance of mental health education and responsible content creation.

In conclusion, the study prompts a critical examination of the role social media plays in shaping the mental health landscape for the younger generation, urging stakeholders to address the potential risks and develop strategies for fostering a healthier online environment.

— Share —

Up Next

Ranbir Kapoor’s ‘Animal’ (2023): An Intimate Portrayal Of Hidden Father Wounds And Childhood Trauma  

Father wounds

Men’s mental health is a lesser charted territory in Hindi films. However, the trailer of the upcoming 2023 film, Animal, by Sandeep Reddy Vanga has been praised for its portrayal of childhood trauma and father wounds against the backdrop of a troubled father-son relationship.

The film follows the toxic dynamics between business magnate Balbir Singh and his son Arjun, portrayed by actors Anil Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor respectively. Balbir is a controlling and abusive father to Arjun, but, despite the ill-treatment, Arjun idolizes him.

Arjun develops maladapti

Up Next

Sedentary Behavior’s Link to Depression Unveiled by New Study

Sedentary Behavior Linked to Depression

Depression and Sedentary Behavior

A groundbreaking study in the Journal of Affective Disorders reveals a strong link between sedentary behavior and risks of developing depression.

However, not all sedentary activities have similar effects on mental health as it is popularly believed.

Therefore, this research differentiates mentally passive and mentally active sedentary behaviors leading to depression.

Up Next

Mental Health Patients Languishing in Hospitals Due to Shortage in Community Care

Patients Trapped in Hospitals are in Mental Health Crisis

Unusual Long-term Stays

A new study by The Independent has brought to light an alarming situation of mental health crisis in mental health care: last year alone, a shocking 3213 patients remained confined in hospital units for over three months, up by 639 from the previous year.

Of this number, shockingly there were 325 children being held in adult units. What is especially disturbing is that quite a few of these people who were cleared for discharge ended up abandoned due to la

Up Next

Study Challenges Notion of Mobile Phones’ Negative Impact on Wellbeing, Health

Mobile Phones' Impact on Wellbeing

Contradictory Findings Emerge from Extensive Oxford Research

Extensive research undertaken by health researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute has revealed interesting insights that challenge the common view regarding that mobile phones’ impact is destructive on overall mental health and well-being.

Contrary to popular belief, a study involving data from more than 2 million individuals across 168 count

Up Next

Stevenage Chef Wins Bright Future Award for Mental Health Service Excellence

Stevenage Chef Service Excellence

Mitchell Gets Bright Future Award for Dedication

One of the highlights of the elaborate celebrations in honor of commitment and unique contributions was Steve Mitchell who is a genius Stevenage Chef.

This is after he scooped the distinguished Bright Future Award during Cygnet Group’s recognition awards ceremony.

At Cygnet Hospital in Stevenage, Mitchell is regarded as a Head Chef, having firmly established himself by providing a comprehensive menu for mental health patients with

Up Next

Millennials’ Mental Health Crisis: Unraveling the Root Causes and Seeking Solutions

Millennials' Mental Health Crisis

In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there was a groundbreaking research study which showed shocking results about the Millennials’ mental health crisis experienced by the Australians in most of its part.

In the extensive analysis to study the Millennials’ mental health crisis, over twenty years on 27, 572 individuals between 2001 and 2020, Dr. Richard Morris, a senior research fellow at the faculty of medicine and health at Sydney university took charge.

Generation Y shows a lo

Up Next

The Therapeutic Power of Diary Writing Unveiled: A Profound Impact Beyond the Personal Realm

Diary writings of Sir Patrick Vallance

In an astonishing twist, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has revealed that his practice of diary writing during the Covid crisis of 2020 were an unexpected form of mental health protection rather than for publication.

Initially written to relax and deal with stress following arduous days supporting ministers, his unvarnished notes on UK’s response to the pandemic emerged as an important therapeutic rite.

Sir Patrick Vallance is not alone in finding solace in diary wr