Tik Tok has exploded with full force onto our screens and while many of us may not be directly part of the community, much of social media is now awash with shared and re-shared videos, which cover a mind boggling array of subjects. Whether you are looking for a hundred ways to cook a potato, videos on people power washing filthy swimming pools or looking for financial advice, it is incredible to see the scope of information and entertainment that a random stranger on the internet will post up for all to enjoy.
An unexpected by-product of the rise of Tik Tok is a greater amount of information being shared about mental health issues and neurodiversity. Circulating in their droves are cheery checklists of common traits and symptoms, jovial anecdotes and highly relatable scenarios that most of us can feel a kinship with. As a result of this there has been a strong upswing in ADHD, Autism, DID and GAD assessment and diagnosis, in part down to the heightened awareness thanks to this sharing platform. But is searching for a diagnosis always useful?
In these situations it is worth considering whether having a diagnosis- either formally or self attributed will be a positive force. Many people who are neurodiverse find it a huge relief to be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them different from others and gives them a starting point to work from, giving them opportunity to adjust expectations and ask for tailored help when it’s needed. Finding that there is a label, and therefore a community that you could be part of, who understands your life struggles can be really helpful and knowing you are not alone can make a huge difference. Those in a study environment, whatever their age, may also benefit from a formal diagnosis as it may mean that you are eligible for extra time in exams, extra help from educational settings and, if it feels necessary medication which can help you focus when you really need to.
The downside however of seeking a diagnosis due to information on social media is of course that these symptom checklists also run the risk of pathologising behaviour which is in no way a problem in day to day life. There is also the risk that the impact of other neurological differences, such as trauma, PTSD or ASD can be missed as the symptoms that are being experienced are attributed to ADHD or similar instead. As with a lot of neurodivergence and mental health issues, there is always the possibility of overlapping symptoms which need to be carefully looked at if they are proving to make living a fulfilling life difficult. In this instance the old maxim of ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous’ may well apply here.
The main problem with these Tik Tok videos is that they mimic what is often referred colloquially to as ‘the horoscope effect’- the act of reading a horoscope and feeling as though it describes your life perfectly, when of course it is entirely generic. While many young people are becoming quite rightly more informed about neurological differences, a lot of us are wondering if we maybe belong in these labelled categories too when perhaps we shouldnt.
The algorithms-the set of instructions which decide what videos get suggested to you, based on previous views- will often target people already following accounts which speak about neurodiversity, mental health and the LGBTQ+ community with content of a similar ilk. This means that many young people- the general demographic of these types of social media outlets- who already feel on the fringes of society may find comfort in finding experiences that they can relate to, and equally know that their experiences are shared by others. The result of this may end up being that people are overly identifying with these symptom lists and therefore diagnosing themselves without needing to.
It goes without saying that if you are feeling as though you are really struggling with life and your symptoms do seem to strongly tie in with what you are reading or watching then the best course of action is to get in touch with your GP who will refer you for a specialised assessment. It is true that a lot of adults today have had to navigate their way through life feeling different and only now realise that there is a name for it. Being able to avoid this struggle is always going to be a benefit.
At the same time, if you feel as though you would like to explore the symptoms you are having, or feel as though you would benefit from working through difficulties that are arising from these, then talk therapy is a perfect space to start. There is no need to have a formal diagnosis in order to access private therapy and it can be a great tool to help you find coping strategies to work with the differences you are experiencing.
Although often physical and mental health are considered separately and in their own right, the reality is that often one can greatly affect the other. In the same way that having a physical ailment can make you feel down, even to the point of depression, the opposite can also be true and often your mental health can have a marked impact on the body.
Psychosomatic illness is what is sometimes referred to as a physical illness that is ‘all in your head’ as its roots are not able to be detected in a scan, blood test or any other form of examination. In fact, reportedly up to 1 in 4 people who speak to their GP about a physical problem find that their symptoms cannot be explained by medical means. Though there is societal stigma surrounding what is and is not a ‘real’ illness it is safe to say that illness caused by stress can be just as debilitating as that of injury or a genetic abnormality. Often people who have tried all the usual processes of trying to track down the cause of the condition or illness they are struggling with can feel a certain amount of embarrassment at considering that it may be due to stress. But the power of the mind to stop your body in its tracks should not be dismissed so easily.
Many of us are already aware of psychosomatic responses in the body on a day-to-day basis- that excess sweating we get when we are stressed, the butterfly feeling in your stomach when we are excited, the feeling of being outside of your own body when we are put under the spotlight. While these responses are usually short lived and part and parcel to stressful or abnormal situations, often high levels of intense anxiety can cause more long-term effects in the body. The truth is that being stressed is exhausting on the body, your body floods with the hormones which activate your fight or flight responses, blood pumps to all the muscles, your senses sharpen to where they are needed the most. Prolonged exposure to these stressful situations can often have a debilitating effect on the immune system and bodily functions, and a lot of the time without us even really being aware of the link between the two.
As well as more shocking responses to anxiety which are often spoken about more candidly, such as having heart attacks due to stress, many chronic unexplained illnesses can be attributed to a slow burning heightened level of worry or the after effects of trauma. Complaints of pain in the body, extreme lethargy and inability to carry out day to day activities can sometimes have their route cause in the psyche rather than the body.
If you feel that you are suffering from an illness or discomfort which cannot be explained or detected by the usual medical processes, then perhaps it is worth turning your attention towards your mental health. Here at The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of highly trained counsellors and mental health professionals who are well versed in how anxiety and trauma can manifest in a physical way. Often being able to discuss what is going on in your mind can provide an outlet and understanding of what emotions you are struggling with and as a by-product of this ease physical symptoms that may be linked.
Realising that your mental health is not where you would like it to be, or reaching out and asking for professional help can be a real hurdle for a lot of people. Often we don’t want to admit that something is wrong, or that we have a problem that we can’t fix in-house. Whilst there is a lot more talk and understanding around counselling and various talk therapies there is still a certain amount of stigma attached to seeking professional help. Sometimes we judge ourselves, or sometimes we worry about the judgement others may have of us if we admit that we are struggling.
Today we are going to have a quick look at some of the arguments commonly used against reaching out and allowing ourselves and those around us to get help. Many of them are quite deeply ingrained and hard to shift but are worth looking at in a critical light if holding onto these ideas are preventing you from living your life to the fullest.
Other people have it worse than me. Firstly, do they? And how do you know? Everyone’s life experiences are different and everyone has different responses to hard situations. The truth is that there is no hierarchy of struggling. Some people manage to navigate awful trauma with minimal fall out and others end up feeling totally destroyed or employing damaging coping habits in order to keep functioning. Not being able to cope with difficulty does not make you a lesser person, much in the same way that just because you are managing to cope better than some others doesn’t mean that you are less deserving of help. Prevention is better than cure, so if you feel like you are finding life difficult, getting help sooner rather than later is alway going to be helpful.
I should be able to handle all situations on my own. We can be our toughest critics, and at the same time we can also take on board unhelpful criticism from those around us very easily. Often the idea of the good old fashioned ‘stiff upper lip’ is a sentiment carried over from our parents or even grandparents. It’s worth toying with the idea in these instances where we know instinctively that we need help but don’t allow ourselves to reach out, of what we would say to a friend if they were struggling. Often we find we are much kinder and more compassionate to those around us than ourselves, when the reality is that sometimes we really need to put ourselves first. Often harbouring these feelings of having to weather everything on our own can be a response to not having the option to rely on others when we were in our formative years. As an adult you do have that option to reach out and ask for help on your own terms.
Only crazy people have therapy. Firstly- who is crazy? What indeed is normal, if crazy is a divergence of this? It is important to remember that life is often very difficult to navigate and the fall out from family dynamics, trauma, socioeconomic struggles and so many other problems which are beyond our control can have a huge impact on our lives. People go to therapy for all sorts of reasons and for many it can be completely transformative, whether they are in dire straits or not when they enter the therapy room.
Why would I need therapy when I have friends to talk to? This is a great one as it seems to make perfect sense. However engaging with therapy in a formal setting works entirely differently to sitting with a mate over a cup of tea. A trained professional is able to guide you through the therapeutic process with a deeper understanding of what might be going on for you and will be able to offer thoughts and insights that a friend might not be able to.
The notion of confidentiality and impartiality is also something not to be overlooked. In a therapeutic setting nothing you say, aside from a safeguarding concern, will go beyond those four walls. Being able to speak entirely honestly and without any worry of having any information relayed on, whilst knowing that there is no judgement from the person listening can be a very powerful factor in therapy.
If you feel as though you are currently struggling with your mental health and are unsure as to where to turn it may be worth having a look into what counselling could offer you.
At The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of highly qualified and insured mental health professionals who specialise in a variety of areas such as couples therapy, psychodynamic theory and substance misuse. Get in touch today to start your journey to better mental health.