About 7% of American adults suffer from depression, and 18% from anxiety, according to a research paper from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. If you watch a few #sad or #depressed videos on TikTok, though, the platform may serve up nearly 100% sad content for you.
What you watch, share, like, and follow feeds the algorithm for your future content. Even pausing to hover over a video helps TikTok to identify your interests and what catches your attention.
Since 70% of TikTok users spend more than an hour a week on the app (6% spend 10 hours or more each week), this can add up to a lot of time engaged with negative, sad, or depressing stories if you are not careful.
While some popular TikToks include videos suggesting that viewers check in on friends and make sure they’re okay using hashtags such as #mentalhealthawareness information, there is some evidence that social media use, especially of highly visual platforms like TikTok, is correlated with increased depression and anxiety.
Depression, anxiety, and social media
One JAMA study found that members of the groups researchers called “Connected” and “Wired” (the subjects in the study who were most strongly connected to social media) were much more likely than the “Unplugged” and moderate social media users to report symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Correlation is not causation, and these studies (and others like them) don’t show that using social media leads to depression or anxiety. It may be that people who feel depressed and anxious turn to social media in hopes of learning more and feeling better.
However, the study that looked at the “Unplugged” compared with the “Wired” groups came about when researchers found that subjects they spoke with at the beginning of the study became more anxious and depressed as the study progressed. While they were checking on mental health during the pandemic, the connection with social media caught their attention so much that they felt a need to study it further.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
TikTok in particular has been spoken of admiringly by psychologists for making it okay to talk about mental health. Where Instagram is all about showing carefully touched-up and curated versions of reality, TikTok opens the door to sharing experiences of anxiety and depression. Tiktok has helped normalize discussing the symptoms and reduces the stigma around asking for help.
On the other hand, since TikTok uses an algorithm (a mathematical process) that shows people more of what they choose to watch, it’s easy for people who are a little blue to end up going down a rabbit hole of misery.
If you or a loved one may be spending too much time wallowing in dismal videos, think about talking with someone or getting help. A few suggestions:
- Visit Mental Health America’s online testing area. Quick screening tools allow you to get a sense of whether you’re experiencing an ordinary bad mood or whether it’s time to get some help.
- Remember that there are treatments for depression and anxiety. You don’t have to just live with either of these conditions.
- Talk with your doctor. Ask your primary care physician for advice or contact Northwest Arkansas Psychiatry.