Social media’s mental health content is for self-education, not self-diagnosis

Credit: 
Supplied by Mackenzie Loveys

Like many, I first viewed social media’s array of mental health content as a useful outlet for discussing mental health and connecting people through shared experiences. However, I’ve since realized there’s a fine line between enjoying thought-provoking content and seeking mental health advice from strangers.

Mental health has been an important topic of conversation for years—growing even more relevant since the beginning of the pandemic. In July of 2020, Statistics Canada found only 40 per cent of Canadians aged 15-24 reported having excellent or very good mental health, 20 per cent less than before COVID-19.

At a time of uncertainty and isolation, many have turned to Instagram and Tik Tok for their seemingly endless treasure trove of content for comfort. In the process, some users have discovered the rabbit hole of mental health-related posts. 

While accounts focusing on mental health can be beneficial to users who want to feel understood by a community, this isn’t always the support system users need.

Mental health content should inspire us to seek a one-on-one assessment with a professional who will consider our specific symptoms and personal histories. This way, those who need one will have a diagnosis specific to them, rather than one liberally applied to an influencer’s list of followers.

A large social media following doesn’t determine someone’s credibility—but their education and professional training often does. Many content creators lack the necessary knowledge of how to properly approach potentially triggering topics and don’t have the credentials to diagnose.

With so many posts circulating about mental health issues and symptoms, it can be dangerously easy for users to self-diagnose themselves based on generic information given by social media influencers. Someone might see “excessive worrying” as a symptom and assume they have an anxiety disorder.

While this might be true for some, a generic post directed toward thousands of people can’t differentiate between the difficult stressors of someone’s life and a mental health illness. Posts can confuse people further by mentioning varying or conflicting diagnoses, which can frustrate users who don’t know what to believe.

Diagnosing a mental illness is a serious and complex process needing many considerations.  Everyone has unique circumstances impacting their mental health, and an individualized approach to diagnosis and treatment is necessary.

Meeting with a licensed professional—a therapist, psychiatrist, or physician—will offer a more reliable diagnosis. They’re trained to provide a safe space where they can identify symptoms and their roots, as well as recommend patient-specific treatments or medications.

Learning about mental illness on platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok is perfectly acceptable, but social media shouldn’t be ­­the final step in confronting one’s own mental health struggles.

Social media is a powerful tool for self-education—let’s leave the diagnosis to the professionals.

Mackenzie is a second-year Film and Media student and The Journal’s Assistant Arts Editor.

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