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Tik-Tok is leading to unusual mental illness among teens

Here is an article [click here to read article] on a frightening new phenomenon in the past few years: social media usage creating new cases of mental illness by social contagion. A troubled teen may find videos on Tik-Tok about a rare mental illness, and then Tik-Tok's algorithm begins to send more and more related posts. Before long, the teen is convinced that this diagnosis is the answer to social problems, and this belief creates an actual mental illness--although not the one the kid thinks it is.

I wrote a recent post on "mass hysteria" among adolescents related to social media [click here to read this previous post]. This, unfortunately is more of the same, but extended to many new problems. Click below to read the article.

[click here to read article] NOTE: You can ignore the pop-up about subscribing to the WSJ, and close out of it.

One major concern is the increasingly common self-diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID--which used to be called "multiple personality disorder"). As a trauma therapist, this is a major concern for me, as DID is always the result of the worst childhood trauma imaginable. It is EXTREMELY rare. But now I have to figure out if the symptoms are the result of real DID, or social contagion. Many older trauma therapists who are specialists in DID do not know this, and therapy designed to treat DID, when the client does not have DID, is in my opinion going to make a bad situation much worse. This trend of online self-diagnosis by adolescents may well be a public health emergency, which many therapists are unknowingly making even worse.

One area of consensus is that these issues exploded in 2007--with the introduction of the iPhone, the first smartphone. Smartphones were initially luxury items for CEO's, but now most 12-year-olds have one. And social media is an perceived necessity in adolescent social groups, unless a trusted adult can assure them otherwise. With it comes instant access to a lot of emotionally damaging material. I haven't mentioned cyberbullying, but any kid can tell you about it, and probably mention a teen suicide (I can). My recommendation is to restrict adolescent "screen time," as it appears to be excessive use that is most associated with negative mental health outcomes. The issue with unrestricted smartphone access (including at school) is that use is almost inevitably excessive and private.

Of course, the most important thing is an open, respectful, yet authoritative relationship with one's kid. But when the teenage years happen, boundaries are tested, and the parent who tries hard not to be "that parent" often ends up heartbroken and even more resented by a child than if boundaries had been clear. Studies show that teens want parents to be MORE active in their lives, not less, while admitting that they often send the opposite message.


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