You Are What You Watch: Teenage Girls are Faking Mental Illnesses on Tiktok

Monkey at my therapists office. by onefallinghope is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“Monkey at my therapists office.” by onefallinghope is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Teens have a wide variety of problems on their hands, between school, graduation requirements, extracurriculars, home life, and social circles. More than a handful of them also deal with some form of mental illness that goes untreated until adulthood, making all of these things harder for them.

But what about the ones who hop on trends meant to spread awareness for a disorder and malinger the symptoms of it, or worse; fake it altogether?

It is really not as rare as you would think. With social media such as TikTok offering unfiltered information about a mass amount of topics, as well as people who supposedly deal with them with the inability to verify the truth behind this, it is easy for teens to misdiagnose themselves or try to fake the disorder to fit into a group they know will show support.

“Until recently, it was rare for a young patient to come to psychologist Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD, head of research at The Mental Health Coalition, with a formal self-diagnosis. It was even rarer for several of those patients to land on the same serious, trauma-related condition,” Teen Vogue says.

In 2021, many news sources and publications began to pick up on the uptick in teenage girls coming in to their doctors with Tourette’s-like symptoms.

“Physicians at hospitals all over the world are reporting a bizarre phenomenon that’s seen a rapid rise in teenage girls developing tics — physical twitches — which doctors believe may have been derived from TikTok,” the New York Post reported in an article from 2021.

According to the Archive of Disease in Childhood on BMJ, it is believed that this is not only the result of the social media platform allowing the information and exposure to individuals with these disorders easier, but also the boredom resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. “At Texas Children’s Hospital, the caseload for patients with tics was just one or two per year prior to the pandemic,” the New York Post says. “That rate has since multiplied by a few dozen, now up to 60 patients reporting tics since March 2020. Similarly, Johns Hopkins University Tourette’s Center saw 10% to 20% of its pediatric patients arrive with these symptoms during the past year, whereas the typical rate prior to the pandemic was just 2% to 3% annually.”

Of course, it is not only Tourette’s that’s becoming ‘popular’ with these individuals. Disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder have also been made popular by TikTok and influencers on Youtube.

“But lately, Torres-Mackie has seen several patients who cite social media as the reason they believe they have dissociative identity disorder,” Teen Vogue reports.

Dissociative Identity Disorder, for example, is caused by incredibly severe childhood trauma that prevents the integration of the personality. Not only is this disorder incredibly rare and hard to develop due to the specific conditions needed for it to develop, but it is easy for young teens to confuse it with Borderline Personality Disorder or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the similarities shared between them.

At face value without knowing much about it, the disorder seems desirable, especially since it can sound like a solution for loneliness to some teens.

“DID is still not a well-understood disorder, is hard to diagnose, and is thought to be exceptionally rare with only 1 or 2% of the population being diagnosed but somehow hundreds of young TikTok users are now claiming to have DID without even being formally diagnosed,” Her Campus, a student publication at the University of Tampa, says. “DID comes from a person having extreme enough trauma that their personality and identity fragments in order to keep these traumatic memories safely tucked away from them […] Fakers, on the other hand, portray the image that it is like having a revolving cast of characters in your head which they are perfectly in control of and fully aware of at all times.”

Some teens believe that a mental illness will make them more special or unique, prompting them to try to match things about them to disordered symptoms.

“The teens said stars such as Kerry Katona and Britney Spears, who have spoken about their problems, have been an influence,” says. “An alarming 34% admitted lying about having a mental illness in the past, according to online therapy service”

Unfortunately, this horrendous trend brings trolls, cyber-bullies, and other negative people to social media influencers and other people who actually have the disorders being faked for popularity. They themselves are often accused of faking and getting threats from people, pressuring them to show their official diagnosis papers.

The detriment caused to real patients and to the communities they created online designed to be safe and educational spaces is disheartening and altogether sad. The internet should learn that it is not necessary to have a mental illness to be accepted or interesting to other people.