emilie Leyes, 27, works with reps in New York to build mental resilience and manage work stress. When she started scrolling through TikToks about ADHD, it was because she wanted to learn more about people with ADHD — so she could better help clients with the condition.
Leys soon found out that she was dealing very aggressively with the people in these videos.
“I really had no idea I had ADHD until I joined TikTok,” she says.
Leyes is one of many women who conclude they have ADHD after spending time on the catwalk. The ADHD hashtag on TikTok has 14.5 billion views; #addawareness has over 500 million, and the videos themselves can have hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of hits. Some sections list the symptoms. Others offer tips for coping with everyday life with ADHD. The number is intended to reduce the shame and stigma often associated with the condition. It could be a comedy about distraction or the difficulty of cleaning an apartment, and it opens with phrases like, “People with ADHD will understand this video on a different level.” Others are explainer videos on ways to stick to a routine or organize your space.
For the many women who see these videos in their feed, this is the first time they have learned about some of the symptoms of ADHD, other than the more well-known: hyperactivity and difficulty concentrating. “As a child who excelled and got good grades, [ADHD] It was never on my radar,” Leyes told TIME in an email. “I was shocked to find out through TiKTok that my experiences were ADHD compatible.”
At the same time, psychologists say it can be dangerous to rely on social media platforms like TikTok for information about mental health conditions that require a specialist diagnosis. And while many social media platforms share information about mental health, TikTok is an especially effective place to spread health messages — for better or worse. Because of how the algorithm works, it’s likely to show you content you didn’t even know you wanted to watch — or, for that matter, tell you a condition you didn’t know you might have.
Why women turn to TikTok for ADHD advice
It’s not just Leyes who was shocked to find out, in adulthood, that she had ADHD. in article Published in 2018 in the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Ann Walters, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, writes that studies estimate as many as half to three quarters of all women with ADHD go undiagnosed, and many have been overlooked. About childhood cases because “ADHD in girls and women appears to be different from symptoms in boys or men.”
according to Mayo ClinicADHD is “a mental health disorder that includes a range of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.” Although ADHD is generally viewed as a hyperactivity disorder, The UK’s National Health Service says Girls are more likely to display inattention in a calmer manner, with less disruption in the classroom.
Some experts say the problem has been exacerbated by pressure on girls to “hide” their ADHD — that is, to hide their symptoms. “Little girls for a long time were supposed to stay calm and pretty and not make a fuss,” says Lauren Collins, a counselor and psychotherapist in London. “Many will adjust themselves in order to feel accepted.”
a 2014 Research Review She also found that ADHD is sometimes discounted in women because other, more common disorders are diagnosed instead – such as anxiety or depression. “It’s probably just anxiety,” explains Dr. Inna Kanevsky, professor of psychology at San Diego Mesa College. The waters can be muddied, she says, because untreated ADHD can sometimes cause anxiety, but ADHD can coexist. However, many women walk away with just one diagnosis.
That is if they get medical care at all.
“The queue is so long, you think, ‘Well, it can’t be that serious, and it’s not prioritized. Collins says. “But your life begins to become unmanageable, because you are getting sadder.” In the UK, Reddit forums are flooded with people complaining about waiting for a diagnosis for years, unless they pay for private healthcare.
Likewise in the United States, “It’s really expensive to know if you have ADHD,” Kanfsky says. “If you can’t get insurance, you have to become private, and if you become private it means thousands of dollars. Not everyone has the resources.”
Because of racism and discrimination, black women may face additional barriers in obtaining an official diagnosis. For one thing, most research on this disorder has focused on white men, researchers conclude in A 2009 report Published in Women & Health magazine. Another issue is how black women are treated when they enter the doctor’s office.
Study 2019 The publication in Health Services Research analyzed the reasons for unmet needs for mental health care among blacks in America, and reported that “discrimination on the basis of mental illness and race was more exacerbated among black women.” The study goes on to say that for both men and women, those negative experiences with mental health care influenced whether or not they continued to seek treatment.
Many black women reported not being believed or heard when they walked the official route. Stereotypes can contribute to this. “For black women who are seen as the ‘powerful black woman,’ things get overlooked,” Collins says, “like emotional pain and conflict. “There is a perception that a ‘strong black woman’ can continue to do so.”
By contrast, women who watch TikToks about ADHD symptoms may feel welcome in an online community of like-minded people who not only act like them, but also believe them.
The problem of misinformation
However, it is important that TikTok users understand where their information is coming from and that not all health information they encounter is reliable. Professionals use the platform to educate people about the condition, but unqualified people with limited knowledge do as well. The sheer volume of ADHD videos means that some myths about the condition inevitably abound.
Anthony Young, of the University of British Columbia, is the co-author of study It was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry in 2022 that found that nearly half of the ADHD TikToks it analyzed were misleading. “We’ve noticed videos that say, ‘If you don’t like doing homework, you have ADHD’; if you go out during meetings, you probably have ADHD,” he says. Now that the pandemic has changed the way we work.”
Yeung says that these videos often include the phrases of Barnum (named after Showman PT Barnum), which are assertions that are vague enough that almost everyone feels they apply to them. Young explains, “But if everyone has a mental health disorder or psychiatric condition, that means no one suffers. So we need mental health providers and clinicians to make that distinction.”
It can be difficult to verify information from TikTok, says Lola Garant, who runs an ADHD-focused coaching business and an account on TikTok under the username @theweirdocoach. “This is always the risk that comes with a social media platform,” Garant tells TIME in an email. “You cannot verify the source of the information and the main driving force behind the platform is fame. People want to get more views or followers, and sometimes they want to say things that are not 100% true to gain these things.”
The role of the algorithm
The highly interactive TikTok algorithm and a “for you” page are key to all of this.
When Yeung started studying ADHD videos, he noticed something interesting: “The TikTok algorithm started recommending more and more [ADHD] Videos. I thought: ‘Wonderful. Now I’m starting to see how this can create a highly customized algorithm. “And TikTok’s algorithm is frighteningly good at predicting what people might want to watch. After detecting a user’s interest in a particular topic, they will continue to recommend similar videos. So if you show an interest in TikToks about ADHD, you are likely to see a lot of them.” According to his findings Young, this means that you are more likely to be exposed to more misleading claims about this condition.
TikTok also predicts what you’ll enjoy by looking at the preferences of people who are similar to you, explains Sarah Sen, a researcher in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. This process is known as collaborative filtration. “For example, if two people click on a group of similar videos, the algorithm concludes that they have similar tastes,” Sen says.
Thus, it is likely that you will enter misinformation about ADHD into your feed simply because of your shared interests with other users. It’s easy to see how users are sucked into a rabbit hole.
As Sen says, the key to this is that “social media regulation, especially in the United States, is lax now…it has gotten to the point where there is a lot of information and we can’t sort it properly. We have no way of knowing who is credible and who Not so. Who can we trust?”
A TikTok spokesperson told TIME: “We are proud that TikTok has become a place where people can share their personal experiences with mental health and support each other, and we take our responsibility to keep our platform a safe space for these important conversations taking seriously. That’s why we continue to invest in digital literacy education. which is intended to help people assess and understand the content they interact with online. We encourage anyone seeking mental health advice, support or diagnosis to reach out to a qualified professional.”
Collins says, when it comes to finding trustworthy information, “It’s about making a distinction about where you’re going. [on the platform]. Make sure the speaker is registered and certified, and that they back everything up with research and data. Then follow it. Go to the official websites where you can get some powerful advice.”
Reduce stigma, understand the diagnosis
As with every social platform, TikTok offers pros and cons. One positive thing is that people use the platform to open up about ADHD. “There were a lot of attempts [on TikTok] To reduce stigma related to mental health conditions. As a psychiatrist, I think that’s great,” Young says.
The platform also provides much-needed community and support for people who can’t find it elsewhere. “When they see other people talking about their experiences — all of the quirks that made them feel weird can be explained by four letters — it can be a relief,” Garrant says.
It can also provide instructions on how to manage symptoms. Leyes says that after watching TikToks about ADHD, “I’m starting to understand why my brain works the way it does.”
She also adds that it helped her obtain an official diagnosis: “Without the resources I gained from social media, I wouldn’t have known what to ask for, how to describe my experience, and how to navigate the diagnosis once it became official.”
Collins agrees that social media tips can be helpful. “Finding ways to self-regulate your emotions and manage your time can be great,” she says. But she says TikTok is not a substitute for proper healthcare. “Yes, you want to understand yourself and know what you’re feeling — that’s fine, that’s part of self-care — but also know that you need guidance from a healthcare professional.”
More must-read stories from TIME