TikTok’s Impact on Mental Health
by Havann Brown, staff writer
APRIL 2021 – In 2017, a Beijing-based tech company called ByteDance acquired Musical.ly for $1 billion before moving its users to a new platform. A year later, the popular video streaming app, assumed a new name: TikTok. It is a social video-sharing app that allows creators to record, edit, and post videos up to sixty seconds in length. The app has amassed over six hundred million monthly active users worldwide and has been downloaded over two billion times on the App Store and Google Play.
TikTok users can create a variety of content ranging from challenges, dancing, artwork, comedic videos, and many more. On the app, every user has the opportunity to go viral, and many experts have raised concerns about TikTok and its growing popularity. A 2017 study of 8th to 12th graders found that high levels of depressive symptoms increased by 33% between 2010 and 2015 and has connected the results to overwhelming social media consumption. Increased technology use has been linked to mental health issues for a variety of reasons, including triggering content, social isolation, and a need for validation.
TikTok saw a rise in users at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. During quarantine, more individuals had to remain at home and find new ways to occupy their time. As stated by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the platform has viral memes where teenagers use self-deprecating humor to talk about anxiety, sexuality, insecurities, depression, and relationship abuse.” Given the wide array of content available on the platform, its users, teens and young adults in particular, have been recommended to exercise caution when using the app.
According to a survey completed by students in grades 7th through 12th, many students at Bio-Med use TikTok. Of the 112 students surveyed, 72.3% are active on the platform. When asked why they downloaded the app, answers ranged from “wanting to keep up with trends” to “needing something to help pass the time.”
Aside from the various reasons for downloading the app, students have many different opinions on the possible effect the app has on the mental health of its users.
Two students shared some of the positive aspects of TikTok.
Eighth-grader Sophie Wiley said, “I think that the app has a very positive environment with strict guidelines for learning, and growth, making an accepting community.”
“I think TikTok has a positive effect on the mental health of users. My sister started using the app this year and has not only connected with more friends, but gained confidence doing something she loves,” said Freshman Mallory Butcher. “Any social media is bound to have some negative effects on users because interacting with people is stressful, but the way I see people use the app, it has helped to keep safe in quarantine and gain social skills.”
Other students shared alternative opinions.
Junior Alex Hale-Hartman said, “I feel that just going through and using TikTok like any other social media isn’t bad, but creating and putting actual care and effort into joining a fad and making TikToks can have a negative effect. It puts the want for social acceptance and the want to conform into a need for the individual and that’s never good.”
“The content is totally fine, but it’s the easy scrolling and short videos that damage our mental health. Our attention spans are being shortened and our threshold for instant gratification goes up and ultimately puts us at a disadvantage,” added Senior Suzie Krauss.
A study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry reported “spending more than 3 hours on social media per day puts adolescents at a higher risk for mental health problems.” In the survey responses, many students noted their concerns about the amount of time people spend on the app. TikTok use of more than five times a week was reported by 45.5% of students, with some using it every day.
Junior Biomedical Engineering teacher and new TikTok creator, Miss Elissa Fusco (@miss.fusco) shared her experience with the platform. After being persuaded by some of her students, Miss Fusco downloaded the app.
“I personally just needed a creative outlet for the crazy things that happen in the life of a teacher. Most of it is satire and just humor because honestly this year has been wild. That humor and creativity have been really helpful to let go of some stress,” said Fusco.
She also commented on the time concerns, “If you don’t manage your time [TikTok] can be very harmful because you get stuck into this rut and addiction in which you just keep watching videos. I do have a social media time limit set on my phone to help with this. Another potentially negative thing is the satisfaction from likes. When you don’t get as many likes as you hoped for or you don’t have that resilience to be okay with that, it can really cause someone to falter a bit along with their mental health.”
When asked how to establish healthy social media habits, Dr. Gary Maslow, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, told CNN, “It’s a balance, because there are benefits to engagement with media. There are so many ways in which social media is important and has positive features, but there’s also ways in which social media can replace social support and connection from people you are living with in person,” he said. “So it’s finding that sweet spot.”