Mental Health Trends And Harmful Half-Truths
The dark side comes with the incorrect, casual use of serious terms like "gaslighting" or "narcissist."
A licensed clinical social worker and psychologist, Dr. Courtney Tracy said, "Mental health has become a trend."
Still, experts say this online mental health movement can benefit people who may have otherwise felt alone.
"People with multiple psychiatric disorders are benefiting from these online forums where they get to talk about their experience and receive peer-based support," Dr. Shahla Modir with All Points North Lodge said.
Clinical psychologist and assistant professor Dr. Erlanger Turner said, "Because we do have more therapists of color on social media, that also has provided a way for people to see that we do exist and that there is representation."
Doctors Shahla Modir and Erlanger Turner both say the openness and vulnerability of mental health conversations on social media have lowered stigma and increased access to mental health support and information.
But with great follower counts, comes great responsibility.
Tracy works full-time making informational videos about mental health for her 1.7 million followers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
She is among a growing number of experts sharing content that debunks misconceptions from online influencers – who don't have mental health credentials, often – sharing misinformation.
"They may give their own perspective or pull a random fact or figure, but share it in a way that actually makes it false information, not necessarily maliciously, but just unintentionally," Tracy said.
The dark side comes in with the incorrect, casual use of serious terms like "gaslighting" or "narcissist."
"Narcissism and gaslighting have been taken out of context, use socially to inflate or exaggerate situations," Modir said.
Over the past decade, online searches for both terms have skyrocketed. But the way they're being used has leaned towards casual expressions that misinterpret everyday behaviors, instead of clinically accurate symptoms or syndromes.
"I've seen it used in a way to almost kind of weaponize it in an argument amongst people online at times where they’re trying to invalidate the other person by just calling them a narcissist," Modir said.
And intentions aside, that can do true harm: causing more stigma to conversations about mental health, or hurting people who have actually experienced abuse and gaslighting.
"They may feel like people don't really understand their reality and sort of the hurt that they have experienced as a result of that," Turner said.
It all comes down to asking yourself, who is giving me this information? Before you save and share that video or meme, experts say, check the poster's bio, which should include credentials.
Also, most legit clinicians will have a disclaimer that their insights should not be a replacement for proven, individualized mental health treatment.
"Instagram and social media is not typically a two-way communication stream," Tracy said. "Make sure that you're double-checking what is said, just so that you can make the best-informed decisions for yourself. That's what's most important."
Experts tell Newsy there's a few more misused terms showing up on social. First – high-functioning depression or anxiety – which isn't a thing – mild depression or anxiety would be the more accurate way to classify either condition. The other misused term: antisocial, a serious personality disorder, that experts say is oftentimes confused for "asocial" – the behavior of preferring time alone instead of with others.
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