Isn't it just a dancing app?
Launched in 2016 as a dancing app, TikTok is now the most downloaded app worldwide, reaching 672 million downloads in 2022. It originally began as an app for children and pre-teens to film and watch dance videos, sharing them amongst one another. But with the sudden hit of Covid-19 in 2020 and long lasting global lockdowns, TikTok rapidly grew in popularity amongst an entire population. It still remains most favoured amongst the younger generation with 25% of users being between 10-19, but now closely followed with 20-29 year olds at 22.4%, as of 2023.
TikTok's content developed immensely during the Covid/lockdown era with multiple new genres like health and beauty, fashion, humour, gaming, gym, cooking, and of course more fun, popular dance trends. Each video is between 7 seconds and 10 minutes (as of 2023), with an average video length of 21-34 seconds, as a survey produced by TikTok found that users felt videos longer than one minute, were stressful.
However, with its ever growing number of downloads, TikTok has with time become an app that focuses on influencer promotion and new constant ongoing content.
What does that mean for us?
The UK already has an incredibly high and rising rate of mental illness diagnoses amongst its population, with 31% of women aged 16-24 reporting evidence of depression or anxiety, 43.4% of adults thinking they've had a diagnosable mental health condition, and 1 in 6 people reporting symptoms of common mental health problems. In conjunction with these rising rates have come many new social media apps such as TikTok, here we will be diving deeper into how this can be having a negative affect on your mental health.
How TikTok truly impacts you
The app itself presents videos within seconds, quickly grabbing your attention and presenting you with multiple short videos at the swipe of a finger. The rapid content access and being able to swipe away from posts you find 'boring' or 'too long' are massively interfering with your attention span, with 47% of people saying "deep thinking" has become a thing of the past, they are no longer capable or wanting to do so, making us become more lazy, unable to focus deeply and losing motivation.
With the rise of new TikTok content and promotional work, comes a new wave of influencers. These paid video creators display unrealistic lifestyle perspectives with short, fun clips of their whereabouts and activities to promote what they portray life to be. This regularly allows for an unhealthy comparison from the the person viewing, generating feelings such as lack of accomplishment and dissatisfaction of life.
Further damage caused by TikTok are due to its algorithms. The TikTok algorithm reinforces, amplifies and exacerbates identity around mental illness by constantly pumping out what is believed to be video information regarding mental health, encouraging viewers to relate and self assess, often self diagnosing conditions such as depression, anxiety or even OCD, all due to the content they are being shown. A recent study shows that nearly 84% of mental health videos on TikTok are misleading!
Overall, TikTok is riddled with extremely subtle forms of negative content and methods to reel you in, making it difficult to stop watching. However, the more aware you are of these features, the more capable you are to stop the damage to your mental health.
How you can successfully manage it
There are many simple ways you can enjoy social media and apps such as TikTok without causing any damage to your mental state; it just involves understanding how and when to put the practices into place.
Firstly, the TikTok algorithm takes note of what you interact with on the app. It recognises likes, comments, shares and reposts, so by limiting or completely stopping your interchange with certain content that arises, like those related to health conditions that send you into a spiral of hypochondriasis and self diagnosis, or the influencers that make you wish you had their life, the algorithm will believe you are uninterested in this content and no longer present it to you. This way you can still enjoy the app and instead only engage with videos that are wholly beneficial to you that will instead be on your feed!
A second way in which you can benefit your mental health, is by cutting down the amount of time spent on apps like TikTok, but don't believe you must ban them from your routine completely! The incredibly easy access to videos with a short running time, as stated previously, does affect your attention span and motivation hugely, but by cutting down the amount of time spent by a half or even a quarter, results in inspiration for other activities and hobbies that will inevitably take over! Making you feel more productive and attentive, overall bettering your mental health, allowing you to strengthen your focus.