TikTok accidentally detected my ADHD. For 23 years, everyone missed the warning signs | Mathilde Boseley
It’s a little embarrassing to say, but social media app TikTok found out that I had ADHD before I did.
For 23 years, my parents, teachers, doctor, psychologist, and my own brain all missed the warning signs, but somehow it only took a few days for the algorithm of this app to diagnose me accidentally.
Growing up, I had always had the persistent feeling that everyone was doing better than me. Somehow they could remember appointments and deadlines, they had the discipline to keep a diary up to date, and they didn’t fall into reverie in the middle of important conversations.
In college, I remember googling “how to tell if you have ADHD,” but all the information that came out was about your six-year-old’s diagnosis, and none of the symptoms really looked like me.
I had never been late for school, I wasn’t hyperactive all the time, I had never even been so disruptive in class. I just felt like there were 10 constantly on TVs in my head, and with so much going on, all the little things would fall through the cracks.
It wasn’t until I downloaded TikTok that I really thought I might have the trouble.
You see, the app is based on the “for you” page which organizes a stream of videos for you. It starts out pretty generic, but because you ‘like’ some videos and quickly scroll through others, the app’s algorithm creates a profile of you and your interests.
And this profile is sometimes frightening. He really knew me better than I knew myself.
Women have been underdiagnosed with ADHD for decades
What happened, I think, was that the algorithm noticed that every time a video titled “Five Little Known Signs of ADHD in Women” appeared on my feed, I watched it, fascinated. , until the end. So, like the machine of dystopian capitalism that it is, the app showed me more and more of these videos desperate to keep me on the app and extract all the possible advertising pennies my eyes could buy.
But, as a side effect, all of a sudden I was seeing ADHD content created by women for women for the very first time. It was like someone was putting words to everything that still seemed weird in my brain. Forgetting something if you can’t see it could be an “object permanence” problem. Not being able to get up and tidy my apartment, despite the desperate desire, may not be laziness; it could be “executive dysfunction”.
Suddenly it occurred to me, maybe I somehow wasn’t “worse at being a person” than everyone else. Maybe I just didn’t have enough dopamine in my brain. I cannot stress enough how liberating this has been.
So I made a doctor’s appointment and three referrals, four months and about $ 700 later my new psychiatrist looked straight into the webcam and said, “Yeah, I think you clearly have ADHD and that you’ve had it all your life. I cried with joy when he said it.
Mental health experts told me that it was hardly surprising that hearing first-hand accounts of neurodivergency was what ultimately broke the pin. In fact, Beyond Blue’s Senior Clinical Advisor, Dr. Grant Blashki, said social media could be an extraordinarily powerful tool in increasing what the medical community calls “mental health literacy”.
In fact, “learning you have ADHD on TikTok” is now such a common phenomenon that it has become its own meme on the app. There is no precise data on the phenomenon, but just from my own experience, since I told my friends about my diagnosis, no less than four people came back to tell me that they thought they could. have it too.
Women have been consistently underdiagnosed with ADHD for decades, so I guess it’s no surprise that we now have a platform that encourages women to talk about their experiences of a new wave of girls. would suspect that they have the disorder.
It can be easy to fall into a rabbit hole
But experts say this is where things get tricky – because this algorithm isn’t guided by a set of strict clinical ethics, and its diagnostic techniques are built around viewing time, not sets. DSM-5 criteria. Blashki said that without a proper medical diagnosis (which at least in Australia should be relatively affordable due to Medicare), it can be easy for people to “fall into a rabbit hole” of misinformation and fall into the trap. diagnose a disorder despite their symptoms having a whole range of other potential causes.
Maybe an incorrect ADHD self-diagnosis wouldn’t be so damaging in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not the only mental health community on the app. It’s not too hard to find creators who ask you to “pin down” every symptom of Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) you have. I saw another person suggest that if you’ve ever had nightmares and have a chronic messy room, you might be suffering from complex PTSD.
Associate Professor Marie Yap of Monash University said it can be extremely anxiety-provoking for some people and, in the most extreme cases, can even develop into the realm of “hypochondria” and self-medication.
She said that sometimes if people wait too long to seek real clinical advice, they can become stuck in their self-diagnosis, and it can be difficult to consider other options, even if a doctor is giving them the best. suggests.
And it made me wonder if I could have fallen into this trap too.
I did the right thing. I went to the doctor. I was clinically diagnosed, and I like to think that if the medical professionals I saw hadn’t agreed with my hypothesis, I would have believed them. But it’s primarily an app for teens, and I’m not convinced I would have been this weighted if I was 16 when I saw these videos, not 23.
The promise of a “solution” to feeling “less than” was so overwhelming. Would a younger version of myself have been able to take no for an answer?
But experts say there are ways to lessen the potential damage from self-diagnosis. This could come in the form of increased screening for mental health misinformation, targeted resources for young viewers, or, as Yap suggested, even potentially ‘Covid-19 style’ warnings embedded in videos. that connect users to verified mental health resources and explain the next steps towards clinical diagnosis they should take.
TikTok’s platform has certain safeguards in place. Searches for “self-harm” or “proana,” a term used by communities in favor of eating disorders, automatically direct users to pages numbered for Lifeline or the Butterfly Foundation, and mental health content. that violates community guidelines is removed. But, at least from my use of the app, these interventions on the platform seem far from universal.
A spokesperson told me that the company “recognizes the important conversations taking place on [their] mental health platform ”.
“We have also worked with experts and deployed resources to make access to assistance easily accessible to anyone in need. TikTok is committed to the mental health and well-being of its users.
Ultimately, I am very grateful to TikTok and the creators who create ADHD videos. This algorithm has profoundly changed my life, definitely for the better. I just hope the company puts enough infrastructure in place to make sure my experience is the norm, and not just a lucky aberration.