Mental Health

How To Spot Bad Mental Health Advice On TikTok

Five questions to ask yourself.

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TikTok is good for many things. Skin care routines. Recipe hacks. Killing time before bed. But mental health advice? Well, that depends.

#Mentalhealth and related hashtags have racked up billions of views on the platform, but that doesn’t mean the content is quality. To be sure, some of it truly is: Many TikTok content creators are mental health professionals, offering self-help tips, book recommendations, and advice on how to make the most out of therapy. It’s also necessary: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans is living with a mental illness, according a 2020 report cited by the National Institute of Mental Health. But a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 19% of Americans received any sort of mental health treatment in the last 12 months, with less than 10% having received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional.

TikTok videos can fill that gap, offering ultra targeted advice about anything you’ve been thinking about, from wondering how exposure therapy works (like being a Gryffindor at Hogwarts, regularly facing your fears) to advice for dealing with anxiety (hold soda in your mouth for five seconds to stop a panic attack). But just because the advice is popular doesn’t mean it’s accurate. One 2022 study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry analyzed the top 100 most popular videos about ADHD. Of the videos, only 21% were categorized as useful. Another 52% were misleading, and the remaining 27% were based on personal information. And this matters, because recent data suggests that young people are increasingly turning to TikTok over Google when on the hunt for information. TikTok can be a great tool for tending to your mental health, as long as you use it mindfully. Here, five things to consider before the next time you scroll:

What Are The Creator’s Credentials?

Understand who this information is coming from. Professionals who have a degree in a mental health field will “show their dedication to the industry and the extra time they’ve taken to broaden their education in the space,” says Tracey Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist at Circles, a mental health app that connects people with similar mental health issues through “circles of support.” They will also likely ground their content to their own experience, their own research, or current clinical guidelines.

Look for credentials like Ph.D. or Psy.D for psychologists; LPC or LMFT for counselors; and LCSW for clinical social workers. (For more, check out this list from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

That’s not to say advice from people who have lived with mental health challenges but don’t have credentials is never useful. It’s just understanding that any hacks or advice by an individual person is representing what works best for them, not necessarily what’s been studied in a larger population.

How Is The Creator Framing The Concept?

The words “should” and “shouldn’t” are red flags on mental health TikTok, says Rayni Collins, LPC, a sleep therapist and dance movement therapist. “These two words are strong indicators that someone is trying to use force, which may or may not be with malicious intent.” Seeing should or shouldn’t is also a good indicator that the creator isn’t a trained mental health professional. “It’s not the role of a therapist or mental health figure to guide someone’s life choices,” Collins adds. “It’s to support someone in making decisions they feel are right for them.”

How Does This Content Affect Me?

Even accurate content can be triggering, especially if it’s talking about a diagnosis, symptom, or event. Are you leaving TikTok feeling excited and empowered, or are you feeling depleted? “If you feel discouraged, this is a big red flag,” Thomas says. Remember: When you’re working with a therapist, they can help you process any emotions that bubble up, or work with you to develop a unique treatment plan.

But sometimes it can be helpful to hear personal stories of what works for people, in that it can be a helpful place to go to know you’re not alone. Plus: Having a platform where people can show the reality of the good and bad parts of dealing with mental health issues can help bring awareness to the topic and inform others who might not be dealing with it.

Would Following This Advice Hurt Me?

Some advice is benign, falling into a “can’t hurt, might help” category. For example, is a creator suggesting you journal, call a friend, or go for a walk? All common sense strategies that can help you get out of your head, notes Laurie Singer, LMFT, a therapist based in Ventura County, California. But other advice, including trying supplements, shifting your diet, or drastically altering your behaviors or communication strategies with other people, likely warrant a conversation with your own doctor or mental health professional before adopting.

Jordan Wright, an assessment psychologist, psychotherapist, and chief clinical officer at Parallel Learning, a digital health/edtech startup, suggests “the eyebrow test” to assess the advice. “You may not be a mental health professional, but trust your instincts on things that are truly weird or sound too good to be true,” Wright notes. “If any advice you’re hearing on TikTok sounds so odd or feels like it’s completely overreaching it makes you raise your eyebrows, it’s highly possible that it’s not the best advice.” Plus, Wright adds that many mental health and emotional challenges do take time to resolve, even when working individually with a mental health professional.

What Can I Do With This Information?

Where things get murky on TikTok is when people see videos and self-diagnose based on information presented — even if it’s information from a professional. “‘That person sounds like me’ isn’t enough when it comes to mental health issues,” Singer says. “What can happen is that an individual may internalize what they’re seeing and hearing and begin to exhibit the actual behaviors. The reality is that each person’s experiences are unique. There may be shared issues, such as anxiety, but how they got there and what they need to overcome needs to be handled individually and specifically.”

Ideally, you would bring what you see on TikTok to a trained mental health professional. “I’m actually a fan of some amount of self-diagnosis from online sources. It may not always be accurate, but when a client comes to me thinking they have a certain diagnosis, it conveys to me that they’re invested in figuring themselves out,” Wright says. You might be wrong, but it can get the ball rolling to tee up a mental health conversation.


Tracey Thomas, Ph.D., psychologist at Circles

Rayni Collins, LPC, sleep therapist and dance movement therapist

Laurie Singer, LMFT, therapist based in Ventura County, California

Jordan Wright, Ph.D., chief clinical officer at Parallel Learning