When it comes to mental health, the Internet is filled with good intentions- but not always good advice. Whether you prefer Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, there is no lack of information and tips about “How to Stop a Panic Attack” or “Signs that You’re Depressed”. Some of this information can be helpful, but some of these tips can do more harm than good. So how do you judge what to take from viral mental health information and what to leave to the experts? Here are 3 tips to help you evaluate what to do with mental health information you learn online and judge which information to “like” and which information to “block.”
1. Be Skeptical
When you go to an appointment with a licensed professional you get the benefit of knowing that the clinician has been through rigorous education, supervision, and testing to ensure that they have the clinical knowledge to provide treatment recommendations that are evidence-based. While there may be individuals who are licensed professionals online, be wary of anyone who suggests that they have all of the answers or that their advice should take the place of meeting with a mental health professional. Even well-meaning advice, such as someone sharing what they learned from their therapist, should be taken with caution. Therapists make personalized recommendations based on their patient’s mental health history, physical health history, and presenting concerns. What works for one person online, may not work for you, and in some cases (such as suggestions to put your face in ice water when feeling anxiety if you have an underlying heart condition) may run the risk of physical harm! So when you read or watch a mental health tip online make sure to ask yourself: Who is this person, what is their training, and are they someone I should trust? If it is hard for you to answer any of these questions, do some further research to ensure that the information you are getting fits the current evidence in the field.
2. Fact Check with the Experts
Peer-reviewed journals written by clinicians or researchers within the field are the gold standard to obtain the most accurate information. However, access to peer-reviewed journals can sometimes be challenging. Talking to clinical professionals, such as licensed or credentialed therapists or psychologists, or obtaining recommendations from trusted health care centers, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or Mayo Clinic, are good places to start learning tips that are generally supported by practitioners in the field. Information from these sources is meant to be accessible and easy to read and has the benefit of being written by clinicians who have the education and experience that many content creators of viral videos don’t have. You can use these to either check whether a Twitter tip is accurate or to learn new evidence-based information from experts in the field. While it may be a little extra reading, it can help to give you the knowledge and background to assess whether the tips you see online actually align with empirically backed (that means tested by research!) recommendations. Once you’ve done the follow-up and checked the viral advice against recommendations from professionals, you can feel more confident and comfortable that the self-care tip you learned from TikTok will actually help to support your well-being.
3. Check-in with Yourself
Notice why and when you are using viral mental health tips. Maybe you find that you feel more stressed than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is helpful to hear that you are not alone on Twitter. Maybe you are looking to expand your self-care activities and you get fun ideas from TikTok. Both of these are great ways to use online communities that talk about mental health to support your well-being! On the other hand, if you notice significant changes in your mental health or daily activities- such as major changes to your sleep, appetite, or interest in things that you usually enjoy- this may be a sign that you need more support than social media can provide. If this sounds like you, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional and schedule an appointment. A mental health professional can help to evaluate what’s going on for you and work with you to make an individualized plan for feeling better.
For example, a therapist may recommend Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is an evidence-based treatment for anxiety and depression, if you are finding yourself feeling stuck in negative or self-critical thoughts. Or they may recommend Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy (DBT) if you often find yourself acting on strong emotions before you have a chance to think your actions through. Meeting with a mental health professional gives you the opportunity to receive treatment that addresses your specific concerns and meets your goals for wellness. While a Twitter thread about how to change unhelpful habits may be thought-provoking, social media is not a substitute for mental health treatment during times of distress. Think of it this way: social media can provide a sense of community and support but only a mental health professional can provide treatment.
Especially during busy and stressful times, social media is a helpful place to learn from others and expand your knowledge of information about mental health. However, these benefits can also put you at greater risk for getting information that may not be true. Look for information from resources you can trust and always be sure that you know the credentials of the person providing the information. If you would like more tips and recommendations from licensed clinicians, a great place to start is our archive of blogs on the Integrated Care Clinic website!
If you are noticing yourself constantly searching online for mental health tips, that may be a sign that you need more support than TikTok or Twitter can provide. Know that you are not alone, and schedule an appointment with a mental health professional to get support that you can trust.