In the last year, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has exploded across the social media platform TikTok, with relevant videos receiving 2.4 BILLION views. Some videos are posted by legitimate mental health professionals…and others are put up by teens and adults who say they have been personally diagnosed with it.
(Whether or not those claims are true remains to be seen.)
It may surprise you that I think there are positive sides to this viral trend! TikToks focusing on ADHD sometimes do identify real, diagnosable symptoms of this disorder and explain them in amusing and often empowering ways. Some of them also go on to offer helpful strategies for managing the lack of focus and motivation commonly experienced with ADHD. The sheer plethora of these positive clips help destigmatize the disorder, and allow those who have it to feel in community with others.
I don’t doubt that many adults and teens who have struggled with confusing symptoms for years have watched the #ADHD TikToks and come to understand themselves in a new light. It’s even better if those people then go on to seek professional help in order to get formally assessed.
However, the obvious has to be stated: not every video out there is accurately capturing ADHD, and misinformation can be a concerning thing. Some videos will claim that one particular symptom is a clear sign of ADHD, when it’s actually indicative of another problem all together. I cringe at the thought of a teen diagnosing themselves with ADHD based on mood changes and impulsivity, only for something more serious (Bipolar Disorder, for example) to be missed.
Another TikTok I watched claimed that ADHD sufferers may behave in toxic, emotionally abusive ways to their partners. That false information is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s also dangerous. ADHD certainly doesn’t cause people to mistreat their loved ones.
Equally annoying are the clips where an identified “symptom” is not even a problem at all, but a common human experience! For example, being extraverted or occasionally forgetful – both of which are normal, non-pathological experiences – are identified in certain clips as being indicators of ADHD. That’s simply not true. These TikToks are perpetuating stereotypes of the disorder, and that’s doing a disservice to people who genuinely struggle with it.
If your teen is on TikTok, encourage them to view information like this with a healthy dose of doubt. Teach them to ask themselves:
- Did the creator of this clip identify themselves as a trained health professional? (Psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, physician, social worker, etc)
- Did the clip cite research or other reputable sources to back up its claims?
- Yes, it’s okay if a non-professional wants to post about their personal experience – but are they upfront and direct about not being a trained professional? Do they specify that their experience is theirs alone, and not a tool by which others should diagnose themselves?
If your teen suspects ADHD in themselves, ask to hear more about why they think so, and seek consult with a professional.