SAN ANTONIO — We've all heard of "Dr. Google." Many of us have used it. But now, more teenagers are going to "Dr. TikTok" for mental health issues. That can be very dangerous.
According to a recent Pew Research survey, one in six Gen Z'ers use TikTok as a search engine, not just for cool dance videos and fun content, but for serious advice that could harm their mental health.
Dr. Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychology with UT Health San Antonio and University Health told us, "We have to start with acknowledging that social media is an educational, perhaps community building tool. But when it comes to it being educational, we have to look at who's providing the education."
Just like how you wouldn't want to learn advanced algebra from someone who hasn't be taught it themselves, Dr. Robles says mental health is no different. She added, "You would not want to get advice from somebody who has not gotten the education or, you know, gone through the process to learn how to share that information."
A recent study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate had adult researchers pose as 13-year-old users. They searched and "liked" mental health videos. The study found TikTok pushed potentially harmful content to those teen users every 39 seconds, with some receiving recommendations for content about suicide within less than three minutes of joining the app.
And if you're not in a healthy space, that could be a serious problem.
Dr. Robles-Ramamurthy said, "It's really, really dangerous to, you know, to have these unchecked mechanisms and algorithms through social media where if you are perhaps hearing a lot of stories of suicide, and now you're getting more and more content."
Dr. Robles says that can take a teen to a very bad place. She told us, "Now you're getting more and more content that is not necessarily inspiring or health promoting, and instead, takes you the other direction."
Dr. Robles also says parents should teach teens that they need to be mindful about what they post on their social media, and that it's okay to share their personal story, but to leave any advice to the experts.