TikTok and Mental Health: What Brands Need to Know

For TikTok, mental health is vital. But how does TikTok affect mental health? Who are the best TikTok mental health influencers, is TikTok safe, and how can brands help?
Fanbytes | TikTok mental health

In 30 seconds:

  • TikTok has demonstrated it takes the mental health of its users seriously, with new measures and features to support their mental health.
  • TikTok’s unique algorithm and niche communities mean it’s becoming a useful tool for Gen Z to learn more about mental health.
  • The best mental health influencers are certified mental health practitioners. We’re listing the best + helping brands identify which to work with.

In late 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook found in its own research that its social media app Instagram is harmful to teenagers. Facebook noted that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” 

Naturally, this brings to mind questions about mental health on other social media apps – especially TikTok.

TikTok is Gen Z’s (the generation currently aged 10 to 25) favourite social media app. Over half of Gen Z consumers are on TikTok.20% of them spend approximately 5 hours a day on the platform

TikTok mental health is vital. But how does TikTok affect Gen Z’s mental health? How do teens interact with mental health content on TikTok, and does TikTok offer mental illness support

In this article, we’re taking you through all you need to know about TikTok mental health, and how brands can contribute to mental health wellness online.

How does TikTok affect mental health?

As Fanbytes account manager Georgia Bell told The Drumthe WSJ findings on Instagram “cannot and should not be ignored by advertisers and will certainly shake up some relationships with the platform”. But TikTok is already further along the right track. 

It’s no secret that TikTok makes its users feel good. In fact, 31% of Gen Z TikTok users include “lifting my spirits” in their top three reasons for returning to the app

This is partly down to TikTok videos’ more laid-back aesthetic, and Tiktok’s egalitarian algorithm. This promotes entertaining content and creates niche communities of like-minded users. TikTok doesn’t present a “perfect” look that teens can’t live up to. This inspires confidence: 64% of TikTokers say they feel they can be their true selves, while 59% feel a sense of community on the platform.

We go into more detail as to exactly why Gen Z loves TikTok in our article here.

Scientific research into TikTok’s longer-term effects on mental health is still a new field (Montag, Yang and Elhai note more research is needed into how active and passive TikTok use impacts the well-being of users). But it already has fans in the mental health community.

Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at mental health charity Mind, has commented on mental health TikTok and its positive impact on the younger generation over the pandemic. 

72% of Gen Z social media users said funny coronavirus memes made them feel more able to “get through” the pandemic. In the 2020 GlobalWebIndex survey, Gen Z said they used TikTok “to find funny/entertaining content”. 

It’s clear that TikTok’s authentic, lighthearted nature is soothing young people in troubled times. But can TikTok offer more than entertainment when it comes to being a positive influence on the mental health of its users? 

Fanbytes | Supporting mental health on TikTok

Supporting mental health on TikTok

To get an idea of the number of TikTok users seeking information about mental health support on the platform, take a look at TikTok’s hashtags. #MentalHealth has been viewed more than 24 billion times on the app, while  #MentalHealthMatters has been viewed more than 16.9 billion times. 

When you consider that hashtags such as #DanceChallenge – something TikTok is synonymous with – has 29 billion views, the significance of mental health on TikTok comes to the fore.

Our own data showed that TikTok posts mentioning “mental health” grew significantly in the early months of 2020 – and that figure has continued to rise. As the pandemic hit, TikTokers sought educational video content to help them handle loneliness in lockdown and other mental health struggles. Now, the platform has become a fertile ground for informative conversations around mental health.

The prompt for this growth in demand for mental health content is easy to identify. But why is Gen Z reaching for TikTok in particular as a means to help them cope?

TikTok provides a platform where users trust others to be authentic. The highly-personalised algorithm connects users with content that closely matches their interests. This not only creates a TikTok community where people feel safe to share, but also lends a helping hand to users searching for mental health content. They’ll see relevant videos in their ‘for you’ discovery feed, meaning they can access help more easily.

The demand for mental health content on TikTok has created a new genre of influencers on the platform, namely mental health TikTok influencers. These are TikTok users whose videos sharing information about mental health and tips for mental wellness have earned them many thousands of followers.

Not all mental health influencers have the same credentials, however – and even mental health experts’ content should be seen as educational only. It’s no substitute for therapy. We talk more about how to identify a valid mental health influencer later on.

Fanbytes | TikTok features for mental health

TikTok mental health features

The growing trend for discussing mental health has not gone unnoticed by TikTok. In September 2021, TikTok announced it would implement new resources for those struggling with mental health issues. Its new tools include an in-app resource list of crisis hotlines, information on how to engage safely with someone in crisis, and automatic public health resources for whenever a user searches for triggering terms.

In the same update, TikTok expanded its resources for users struggling with eating disorders with a new Safety Center guide. TikTok had previously rolled out a feature that provided resources if someone searched for a term related to an eating disorder. It also created a banner for content with potentially problematic hashtags, to provide resources and support information.

The consensus among mental health experts interviewed is that these changes mark a positive shift in how social media platforms handle the mental health of their users – particularly amongst younger generations. 

It’s clear to see that not only is TikTok prioritising the health of its users in these updates, but it is unafraid to disrupt users’ in-app experience to point them in the direction of external help, if needed. 

“We’re honoured people feel safe and comfortable sharing their personal journeys and experiences on TikTok and are proud to partner with experts to provide… access to well-being support and information” said Tara Wadhwa, director of policy for TikTok US, in an email. 

TikTok mental health influencers

TikTok mental health influencers have blossomed on the platform. However, not all TikTok mental health influencers are the same. With a subject as important as mental wellbeing, it’s vital to make sure you are engaging with mental health professionals whose information is correct and safe.

Here is a checklist to have in mind to determine whether health information on social media is legitimate:

  1. Check the influencer’s account for credentials. Are they a mental health professional? If someone is providing unclear information about their credentials, this is a red flag. 
  2. Beware of accounts giving out medical advice, or attempting to diagnose viewers in their content. This will not be as reliable as an in-person appointment. It’s a red flag.
  3. Note that information may be simplified. TikTok videos are short-form, so there may not be enough time to explain complex information. That doesn’t mean information is incorrect – it just means you may not get the full picture.
  4. Remember that not all information is up-to-date. Social media promotes trends, but trending conversations may not necessarily contain the most relevant scientific research. Interesting topics don’t always equal accurate mental health information.
  5. Keep in mind: mental health TikTok is for education only. TikTok is a valuable resource for discovering concepts, treatments or maladies. However, it is not a substitute for therapy. Users should always seek help from a professional.

So, now we’ve clarified what we’re looking for, who do Fanbytes recommend as TikTok mental health influencers? 

@drjuliesmith 🤷‍♀️What are those needs for you? For more information see my new book - Why has nobody told me this before? Link in bio #depresion #selfhelp #therapytok #psychologist #mentalhealth ♬ original sound - Dr Julie Smith - Psychologist

1. Dr Julie Smith (@drjuliesmith)

Dr Julie Smith has a doctorate in clinical psychology and owns a private practice in Hampshire, UK. Her TikTok mental health content focuses on introducing young adults to mental health conditions such as anxiety, OCD or early signs of burnout. Her videos are educational and accessible.

@amoderntherapist Anyone else get stuck looking outside themselves sometimes? #therapy #mentalhealthmatters #forYOU ♬ Night Trouble - Petit Biscuit

2. Dr Justin Puder (@amoderntherapist)

Dr Justin Puder is a therapist and licensed psychologist who works in a private practice in Florida, USA. He also has personal experience helping young people overcome mental health issues in university counselling centres. His content aims to help adolescents address emotional wounds and connect in relationships.

@doctorshepard_md Lmk if this is something you want to talk more about! #therapy #boundaries #relationships ♬ original sound - Dr. Melissa Shepard

3. Dr Melissa Shepard (@doctorshepard_md)

Dr Melissa Shepard is a psychiatrist based in a private practice in North Carolina, USA. Her content is geared towards younger people who may feel alone in their concerns about mental health. She covers subjects such as recognising signs of depression, and misconceptions about mental health in children.

4. Shani Tran (@theshaniproject)

A licensed professional counsellor and therapist based in Minneapolis, USA, Shani Tran is a go-to TikTok account for educational content on mental health. Her videos cover emotional eating, signs of depression and bipolar disorder and panic attacks. Her website disclaimer reminds visitors that her content doesn’t replace therapy.

5. Nadia Addesi (@nadiaaddesi)

A registered social worker based in Ontario, Canada, Nadia Adessi began posting about mental health on TikTok at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She covers subjects like the impact of stress on relaxation, signs of anxiety, and how to set healthy boundaries in relationships. 

Engaging with TikTok mental health: tips for brands

Prioritising mental health should be ingrained in brand culture. And if brands can get a mental health-orientated marketing campaign right, they’ll resonate well with Gen Z. Gen Z cares deeply about mental health issues, but they are also the most likely to report them. Notably, Gen Z wants brands to contribute to social causes, and Gen Z will support brands whose values align with theirs.

However, mental health-related topics must be handled very carefully. It is vital that any messaging on mental health is in line with scientific guidance. The health of your customers and audience must come first.

While brands may be tempted to tap obvious hashtags such as #MentalHealth for its billions of views, this is not a good idea. TikTok users are searching these hashtags in order to find help. Putting your campaign in front of these eyeballs may prevent vulnerable young users from finding vital information at a crucial time.

Instead, think about how you can help your audience by using your campaign to normalise mental health discussions, or point people in the direction of professional help.

Create your own hashtag for your campaign, and use well-chosen TikTok influencers to sensitively spread the message. A good example of this is JanSport’s #LightenTheLoad campaign. This featured conversations with professionals about mental health online that Gen Z could easily access. JanSport also hosted a coordinated hashtag challenge on TikTok, asking users to share videos of themselves emptying their backpacks and handing them to another TikTok user.

For more inspiration and tips on mental health campaigns, check out our article here.

Alternatively, get in touch. At Fanbytes, we’re experts on creating meaningful campaigns that hit the right note with Gen Z. We’d love to talk to you about how we’ll create a mental health-orientated TikTok campaign for your brand.

Can TikTok help mental health?

Unlike the ‘polished perfection’ of other social media platforms, TikTok is known for relatable content. This means that negative effects such as Facebook’s reported in the Wall Street Journal, where teenage girls “feel worse about themselves” after time spent on the platform, is far less likely. TikTok doesn’t show its users a picture of perfection that they cannot live up to. 

How has TikTok helped mental health? TikTok has proven to be a helpful way for young people to feel less isolated, especially throughout the pandemic. It provides light-hearted entertainment. The growth of mental health TikTok also means it can also provide valuable information on mental health support, in an accessible format. 

This information should be seen as educational, however. TikTok can help users’ mental health by informing them about treatment and possible signs of mental health concerns, and pointing them towards legitimate resources. TikTok content itself should never be a substitute for professional help.

In addition to this, TikTok’s own actions to provide clear links to resources on the platform are responsible moves. These signify a more holistic approach towards user experience. TikTok prioritises its users’ safety and confidence using the app over the length of time they spend scrolling and consuming content

Brands wanting to support Gen Z’s mental health will resonate with TikTok audiences. However, mental health campaigns on TikTok are not to be undertaken lightly. Get in contact today and we’ll talk you through how to create a campaign that truly helps your audience and promotes mental wellbeing.

Want to read more about Gen Z’s relationship with TikTok, and how to support them on the platform? Check out the links below:

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