Digital illustration of a TikTok telling viewers the five things they need to know to self-diagnose themselves with ADHD.
Design by Haylee Bohm.

Recently, I have been subject to a lot of conversations in which people announce that they have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This declaration, however, is almost always prefaced or followed by, “I haven’t been diagnosed, but I definitely have it.”

In the past few years, millions of people have sought comfort in social media posts that address mental illness. Riddled with sentiments along the lines of “OMG me” and “relatable,” comment sections are a cesspool of people seeking validation and expressing their otherness, whether diagnosed or not. But I’m not blaming the commenters. I’m blaming the creators — videos addressing mental health disorders are essentially clickbait, with content that oversimplifies symptoms to generate relatability. And this is not a small-scale issue; “signs you have ADHD” TikToks have a collective 72.8 million views and “signs you have OCD” TikToks have 11.6 million views. 

According to the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, of the most popular ADHD TikTok videos, 52% are “misleading.” Videos about ADHD oversimplify symptoms like getting distracted or taking a while to leave the house — both of which, in moderate amounts, are perfectly regular human experiences. The type of generic behaviors people try to pass off as symptoms of specific mental illnesses are unbelievable. Creators say if you have a hard time letting people go or if you overthink, you might have OCD; they say if you “reach for your phone first thing in the morning” or if you listen to popular sad music, you might have depression and so on.

This is also an issue with content relating to autism. Creators will post videos titled “6 signs of autism,” and proceed to list symptoms like struggling with time management, feeling like you “can’t be yourself” in social situations and being emotionally sensitive. Everyone experiences these “symptoms” at one point or another — it’s a part of being human. The difference is neurotypical people experience these struggles in manageable moderation, whereas those with mental health disorders face them in extremes. However, popular social media content fails to differentiate between regular human behaviors and debilitating symptoms of mental illness.

A TikTok video by creator KatyJoyFilms incorrectly details the difference in reactions between neurotypical people and autistic people when there is a change of plans. According to KatyJoyFilms, there are only two possibilities: When any neurotypical person experiences a change of plans, they are fine with it, and when any autistic person experiences a change of plans, they are stressed and flustered. This comparison is an extreme oversimplification to a binary that does not consider the spectrum of autism or the general differences in human personalities. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, rising Engineering sophomore Elise Collins explained that the way in which social media presents mental illnesses makes it incredibly easy for people to relate, especially those who are looking for an explanation for their struggles. Now diagnosed with ADHD, Collins is familiar with the inaccurate mental health content often promoted on social media. 

“When you put something in a really simple box, obviously people are going to identify with it,” Collins said. “It makes it easy for people to self-diagnose when that’s not necessarily the case.”

Once we begin to identify with a disorder, we are subject to the unruly strength of confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out information that verifies our beliefs, while ignoring information that contradicts it. This psychological trap is dangerously common, and occurs largely subconsciously. TikTok’s For You page algorithm encourages confirmation bias. By increasing the presence of content we interact with on our For You pages, it locks us within our own echo chambers. It is also incredibly easy to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, as depicted by the 16 billion searches for ADHD on TikTok’s search platform.

That said, a good portion of these self-diagnoses are likely accurate. Mental illness rates are rising significantly, with an estimated 20% of U.S. adults having some form of mental health disorder. Many people who self-diagnose don’t do so out of choice, but out of necessity, as formal evaluations are absurdly expensive. The average cost is more than $300 for a single ADHD consultation, so for those who suspect a diagnosis, extensive research on the internet is a far more economical form of verification.  

The access of ADHD information on social media is especially important for women. ADHD is expressed differently in male and female individuals and because most ADHD research is conducted on male participants, men are diagnosed and treated at higher rates than women. Therefore, the wide accessibility of information about female ADHD symptoms on social media can easily cause an uptick in awareness about ADHD for women, thus leading more women to seek diagnoses. 

The need for and presence of accurate information does not negate the abundance of oversimplified mental health content that is out there, much of which is posted by neurodivergent creators with no intention of spreading misinformation. Amateurs using personal experiences are providing medical advice on the same platform and in the same convincing manner as licensed therapists and doctors. When users are scrolling rapidly through their For You pages, it is rare that they will do a deep dive into a creator’s credentials. Rather, a lot of what we see is simply accepted, especially if it’s the information we are hoping to hear, including information that validates our issues and answers our questions. 

On the consumer end, we must take it upon ourselves to remain aware of confirmation bias and to manually confirm the credibility, or lack thereof, of any social media content we may consume. This way, we can change the nature of the self-diagnosis epidemic from an ill-informed tactic of relatability to an accurate method of eluding the unnecessarily high expenses of the U.S. health care system and reclaiming autonomy over our lives. 

Talia Belowich is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at