One of the trendiest social media apps among young people, TikTok, is taking over the digital space, with mixed reviews about its effect on mental health as the world enters a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
The video-based platform surged in popularity during initial COVID-19 lockdowns as app users confined to their homes entertained themselves with watching and creating the addictive dance choreography trends, viral challenges, and cleverly edited footage that TikTok is known for. App downloads have increased dramatically since then. Earlier this year, TikTok became the most downloaded and highest grossing non-game app, and was the first non-Facebook app to reach 3 billion installs.
During a time when our collective mental health is arguably at the most precarious and vulnerable it has been in some time, experts differ on whether this app is helpful or harmful—especially for young people and college students.
More than one third of college students have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and anxiety and depression have been on the rise within this demographic since the start of the pandemic.
About 41 percent of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24 and spend an average of 52 minutes on the app each day. That’s more than 30 hours every month.
While the app has been praised for promoting authenticity and de-stigmatizing mental illness, it also raises the same concerns as other social apps—mainly, setting unrealistic body or lifestyle expectations, bullying, and the spread of misinformation.
Here are some of the ways TikTok may be affecting student mental health in positive and negative ways:
Advice from mental health professionals. The New York Times published an article in May titled Therapists Are on TikTok. And How Does That Make You Feel. In fact, there are a number of mental health professionals who use the app to share useful information and interact with users.
Normalizing mental health issues. TikTok has become known as a platform where content creators can be real and open up about their struggles. It is not uncommon for influencers to show a more raw and vulnerable side of themselves, cry on camera, or film stories about a challenging time in their lives.
Practical, positive content. Much of the content on TikTok (though certainly not all) is geared toward improving your life or getting healthier. From exercise and nutrition tips to teaching new skills to helpful advice, there is plenty of available content for those who want to level up.
No vetting. Just because people are giving mental health advice on TikTok doesn’t mean it’s good advice. Since there is no vetting or verification process, users have to decide for themselves whether the “professional” advice they get on the app is legitimate and helpful.
App addiction. Social apps are designed to be addictive and TikTok is no different. The visual-based content and continuous scrolling structure make it all too easy to lose hours of time browsing videos. While a dopamine boost is always nice, app users need to be cautious about using TikTok as an escape or unhealthy coping mechanism.
Popularity contest. It is normal to compare ourselves to others, but comparison can be a dangerous game leading to jealousy and self-criticism. As with any social media app, TikTok can be a double edged sword: inspiring us to become the best versions of ourselves or sending us spiraling into dissatisfaction with our lives.
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