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Loren Galese, M.Ed., LPC, ACS

Imagine this: You are 16-years old, and hear about your friends’ struggles with mental health. You open your phone, and click on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. A therapist, or someone speaking about therapy with no clinical license, pops up on the screen with symptoms claiming that if you struggle with ruminating thoughts, watch the same show on repeat and enjoy a clean room, you have OCD. Panic ensues and research begins on WebMD about all the symptoms of OCD. The thought is now embedded, “I have OCD”.

“What’s concerning, I think for everybody, is oversimplification,” said Lisa Henderson, a licensed professional counselor and past southern region chairwoman at the American Counseling Association, Merchlinsky writes in a New York Times article in 2021, when the rise of TikTok famous therapists and oversimplification of diagnosis was in its earliest phases.Adolescents typically go through a stage in their development where they feel misunderstood, and want to be seen and heard. Having social media as a main source or their outlet and information can cause a detrimental effect when it comes to mental health issues, or identifying key aspects in diagnosing.

Questions that are commonly asked when determining a diagnosis throughout therapy and upon initial intakes may be, “Do your symptoms impact your daily life?” or “How are these symptoms impacting your ability to live your life in the ways you want?”. Intake assessment and therapeutic interventions are more involved than 60- second clips on social media and vary based on the individual, their proper diagnosis, background, family dynamics and other variables.

Social media influences have a tendency to portray mental health as “quick fixes”, whereas traditional therapeutic interventions and mental health treatment requires effort from the client to be open to new approaches in their life, changes in their thought processes and trust built in the therapeutic relationship. One of the most important key elements is finding a therapist that you feel comfortable disclosing information to and is trained in the areas you need help addressing.

“Millions of people in the world may experience mental health disorder symptoms but do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis. The primary reason being when a qualified professional is assessing to determine a diagnosis (for most diagnoses), they are looking for what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) calls “clinically significant impairment.”

According to the DSM-IV manual, the clinically significant distress or impairment criterion: …helps establish a threshold for the diagnosis of a disorder in those situations in which the symptomatic presentation by itself (particularly in its milder forms) is not inherently pathological and may be encountered in individuals for whom a diagnosis of “mental disorder” would be inappropriate. (p.7),”. (Slay, 2021).

In summary, if you feel as though you are struggling with any symptoms that are affecting your quality of life and wish to gain a better understanding, seek out a mental health professional. Tik Tok, Instagram or any other social media reference points will only give a snapshot of someone’s personal experience or what a quick Google search will provide. Especially with adolescents and young adults who are more predisposed to gathering false information based on their peers who are using the same outlets. Mental health professionals are here to help and guide in their clinical expertise.