Why Are So Many Black Women Using TikTok To Self-Diagnose?

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Let TikTok tell it, I’m neurodivergent. I’ve seen enough lists of signs and symptoms on my FYP to wonder if ADHD or borderline personality disorder should be noted in my medical records. Due in part to my own laziness, and perhaps a bit of fear of the truth, I never go far enough down the rabbit hole to self-diagnose thoroughly. Don’t get me wrong: There’s no shame in having either medical disorder. In fact, there’s probably a bit of relief in getting answers. But what is an unfortunate realization is that Black women have been forced to seek out user-generated sources of information about their mental health on platforms like TikTok due to prevalent diagnosis disparities in the medical industry.
What was once a popular dance app has now become a portal for Black women to get real answers about their mental health. Research by Dr. Arline Geronimus shows that chronic stress from everyday racism, which Black women are enduring almost every single day, yields cellular-level physical effects on our demographic, which can manifest into mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety. 
The longstanding and rightful distrust of physicians and other healthcare workers is a result of generations of discrimination, racism, and trauma. We’ve been failed by the American healthcare system consistently, be it in maternal care, regular check-ups, or physicians who predominantly do not look like us disregarding our discomfort.
The dismissal of our emotional and physical pain dates back to eugenics, the scientifically unfounded science that caused many to believe Black people have a higher tolerance for suffering than non-Black people. Batten professor and social psychologist Sophie Trawalter and her team conducted studies that confirmed that white people believe Black people experience less pain — and they still believe that today. 
It’s that fundamental (and disproven) perception that has made Black women determined to seek advice and treatment only from physicians, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists that look like us. That patient-doctor understanding would provide Black women access to care that is culturally sensitive and considerate of societal issues specific to our needs. But considering less than five percent of mental health professionals are women of color, we’re less likely to find the doctors (and the help) we need.
Furthermore, Black women experience disparities in access to quality and affordable healthcare. Even with expanded provisions like Medicaid and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, one in five (19%) women with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level were uninsured in 2022, and Black women represent 22.3% of women in poverty. Additionally, the ASPE reports that the uninsured rate for Black Americans was still higher than that for white Americans just last year: 12% compared to 9%. 
So where have Black women turned? Online.
@audhdgirlout #stitch with @theeglamnaija @theglamnaija Welcome to the crew! ❤️ Your self diagnosis is valid. Assesments are not accessible for far too many, sometimes even our own doctors gatekeep, you’ll have people online that will invalidate and shame you for what you already know about yourself but YOU are in there with you and you know better than anyone. Keep researching, keep digging in. You’re worth that. 🖤 #blackneurodivergentpplexist #blackneurodivergent #blacktiktok #blackgirltiktok #blackautistic #blackaudhdwomen #audhd #audhder #adhd ♬ original sound - AuDHD Girl Out
One thing about Black women, we’re going to find solutions for ourselves, even when the world tells us there aren’t any. According to Nielsen, Black women spend more weekly time using apps and browsing the web on smartphones (19 hours and 27 minutes) than total women (17 hours and eight minutes), which we can predict means the Internet is the first line of information for a lot of us. TikTok also has over a billion users worldwide, giving Black women a considerably large community of support along their self-diagnosis journey. 
Additionally, there’s a stigma around mental health within our culture that could lead someone to turn to social media where neurodivergence and other differences can be more accepted. As with everything, relying on fellow TikTokers to answer your health concerns can have its pitfalls.
Just like WebMD, sometimes TikTok can get it wrong. Real wrong. We’ve all seen many TikTok influencers that provide sketchy info. With self-diagnosis, no matter how thorough you are, it can lead to misdiagnosis, and you could need more (or less treatment), medication or otherwise, than you’re aware of. 
“It creates this horoscope type of effect. People see enough of these videos, they start to relate to any number of the potential symptoms and even begin to present with some of the same symptoms,” Dr. Adeola Adelayo told Banner Health about the uptick in mental health self-diagnosis on TikTok in Gen-Z. “While you might believe you have ADHD, it could actually be anxiety or something else. It’s really important for people to connect with the right scientific information and professionals so they can get the right evidence-based treatments. They don’t have to live with how they’re feeling forever.”
However, some TikTokers believe that the social media app can be reaffirming for Black women who believe they may be experiencing challenges with their mental health. In some instances, TikTok can act as a companion to expert treatment and other self-assessments.
If you have questions about your mental health, licensed professionals such as Dr. Patrice Berry (LCP) and Janel Cubbage can be your first stop for information. Sure, a content creator’s list of symptoms may urge you to start to wonder, but taking gleaning advice from an expert’s videos and taking a credible self-assessment or screening can offer you reliable results that support your feelings.
For example, the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Screener (ASRS) is one of the most commonly used self-assessment tools for adult ADHD. It was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Workgroup on Adult ADHD and is meant for folks 18 and over to assess the most common symptoms of ADHD. 
Talkspace also offers a short, free online test for Borderline Personality Disorder. 
So let’s just be clear: Self-diagnosis can help us begin to address our medical needs. Safe and affirming resources like Therapy for Black Girls, a directory of health and wellness professionals, could be of further support when Black women are ready to discuss their results and seek professional treatment.
I’ve never stopped scrolling long enough to assess myself against whatever list of signs or symptoms a TikToker is rattling off to confirm anything. But I do recognize that, for a lot of us—the way racism and health insurance are set up—a TikTok health community can feel like our best option. And until the healthcare system becomes more equitable, just make sure to do your due diligence to get the help you need.

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