Study: TikTok Has Paradoxical Mental-Health Effects

Source: New Jersey Patch

TikTok can serve as a form of social support, but prolonged use could lead to feeling isolated, according to a recent report. The popular video app has some positive mental-health effects but also some concerning impacts — especially for kids and teens — says a William Paterson University (WPU) professor who led a study into TikTok’s psychological impacts.

The report, which the Journal of Medical Internet Research, examines the #mentalhealth hashtag on TikTok. The study examined 100 videos with the hashtag, which had a combined 1.35 billion views. Out of the 2.5 million comments left on those videos, almost half reported or expressed symptoms of mental distress, according to the report.

“During the pandemic, social media served as a replacement for many in-person activities that were halted, offering people the ability to remain somehow socially active and feel less isolated,” said Corey Basch, a WPU professor of public health. “However, there is a concern that the solitary activity of social media use has left adolescents increasingly isolated and less likely to engage in interactive experiences with peers.”

The percentage of commenters reporting mental distress should raise alarms, and it has the potential to get worse, according to the study. Adolescents are TikTok’s primary users, and the age group tends to spend a lot of time on social media, the research says. But repeated, prolonged viewing of TikTok videos about traumatic events can subsequently cause a ripple effect on adolescents that contributes to higher rates of poor mental health, according to the report.

The research, however, also found that 61 percent of comments on those 100 #mentalhealth videos included messages of support or validation — typically from users who said they had similar experiences or trauma. According to the study, this makes TikTok a “just-in-time” form of social support — one “that is made available without the need for planning, scheduling, and financial remuneration.”

But only 16 percent of the analyzed comments shared coping strategies, experiences of healing or ways to feel better, the report says. It could be beneficial for health care professionals to provide intervention to TikTok users, and the idea warrants additional research, the study concludes.

“On one hand, as we found in our research, TikTok can be a form of social support and connectedness,” Basch said. “On the other, because use of social media technology often replaces time spent performing other interpersonal, physical and overall fulfilling activities, it can make one feel incredibly isolated and alone.”

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