On TikTok you can talk about mental disorders like never before

“I was too honest with my psychiatrist”, it says in the @tinymoor video: around her, the typical furniture of a single room in a psychiatric clinic. It is the concretization, or rather, the bad end, of meme “Trying to be honest with my therapist but not so honest that I get involuntarily hospitalized”. Only this is not a meme, it is reality, and @tinymoor is one of the many tiktokers who publish videos every day in which they do not hide, but rather exhibit, their mental suffering. The #psychward hashtag brings together thousands of content, the first published in 2020. They are mostly girls, or maybe it’s my algorithm that chooses them for me. There are those who start talking about their disease, often live, answering questions from followers, and those who instead behave as if everything were normal, apart from the fact that they are hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic. A young girl publishes videos in which she simply dances the trends of the moment with her hospital friends, arousing the (often morbid) curiosity of commentators: why do they all have the same patch on their foreheads? It is a form of self-harm, someone politely replies: deprived of any sharp object, they get hurt by banging their heads against the wall or the floor. “Sorry, I didn’t know,” the girl who asked the question replies desolately. The girl does not respond to comments and continues to publish her ballets undisturbed. «Why are you trembling so much?», Someone asks another girl who has posted a video in which she puts on make-up (she is also hospitalized), drawing a terribly crooked line of eyeliner, which she does not erase. “It’s the psychiatric drugs,” the followers reply for her. “Why did you attempt suicide?” Someone else asks. Her followers defend her in her comments: “There are no questions to ask, she will talk about them if and when she wants to.”

As I scroll through the infinity of videos and live shows in which boys and girls talk about their mental illnesses, including story times, confessions, advice and moments of heavy dark humor, I think of the last times someone has commented on my habit of speaking openly about the disorder I suffer from. A guy pointed out to me that the stories I post on Instagram give the impression that I am wallowing in my problems. Another told me that he would very much like to read something of mine: not an article, something longer, but not about alcohol, drugs and mental disorders. If I were a famous tiktoker I would transcribe these observations into a video and let my army of followers answer for me. I would take refuge in the soft and welcoming room of the psychiatric TikTok, a magical world populated by enlightened teenagers who know the difference between psychologist, psychotherapist and psychiatrist. They use simple language, they explain what they have been diagnosed with and how, what the symptoms are, the treatments that have helped them and those that have not worked (always specifying that each experience is different and that everyone must be followed by a professional), they tell the mistakes they have made, clarify the meaning of the technical terms, reassure peers frightened by the first visit to a psychologist, support those terrified on the eve of hospitalization, cry during a crisis and allow themselves to be comforted by the affectionate comments and the little hearts that they multiply on the screen.

After a lifetime of trying (in vain) to explain why I behave the way I do, I find myself crying in front of the monologues of little girls who, finally, speak the same language as me. My favorite is @ twilightvenom13: her name is Mirna and she has 112,000 followers. The first time she appeared in mine for you was in a video of her in her “get ready with me” series. She had managed to get her precious make-up kit brought to the psychiatric clinic and finally she could put on her make-up while chatting with followers or, simply, listing brands of highlighters, blushes, mascara and false eyelashes. Like me, Mirna was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Although he often talks about it, and has documented his last hospitalization almost daily, which lasted a month and a half (following a suicide attempt) and the slow healing process (he had broken his heels and fractured vertebrae, tibia and fibula: for she couldn’t walk a lot), bpd-related content is only a very small part of her TikTok activity: in most of the videos she does sexy dance, shares her elaborate skin care, flexes her make-up and gorgeous looks, displays beautiful sketchbooks full of drawings (or her room, or the one she bought on Shein, or photos of all the bathrooms she’s been to in January), answers questions about how she figured out being pansexual (or about what he wants to do when he grows up, or about his relationship with his mother, or about his favorite series), lip-syncs Lana Del Rey and Grimes.

“Actually I don’t know how much it helped me to share my hospitalizations on TikTok”, she says in one of the short and sober vocals with which she replies to my talkative emails, full of questions and little hearts and compliments, “since I was little, 15 years or so, I’ve always shared very intimate stuff online, Tumblr is where it all started for me, then Instagram came and then TikTok, it’s always been a natural thing. I have noticed that many borderline people, especially when they are down, tend to share, because that emotion you find yourself feeling is so strong that it is incommunicable, but you feel the need to shout it at the world, and on the internet that’s what you are doing, so I see it as a very natural thing, without a thought behind it. Having reached so many people has helped me because I have heard of so many stories, people who have been close to me even if I have never seen them, I have never known them, people who have told me about situations very similar to mine, who have scared and then deeply touched. I found a sense of community that I had never before found on the internet, and this helped me through the worst times, for example in the month and a half that I spent in psychiatry. It was reassuring to find support, even if only online: for some people it is detrimental, for me it was not ».

@ twilightvenom13 Reply to @mammonslovverr #for you #bpdtok #borderline #dbttherapy #dbt ♬ original sound – twilight venom MIRNA 🚬 👑

Of the “psych ward TikTok” recently wrote Darshita Goyal on Dazed, highlighting a crucial question: is it about destigmatizing psychiatric hospitalization and mental disorders or triggering vulnerable people and romanticizing mental illness? Younger people who perhaps, by emulation, could self-diagnose disorders they do not have or begin to behave differently. And for those who have already been diagnosed, these contents could work like the “thinspo” of the old pro-ana blogs, ways to “bask” in the aesthetic aspects of the disease or, in the case of borderline, for example, triggers capable of stimulating relapses or self-injurious behaviors. In spite of her, Mirna is a perfect example: beautiful, intelligent, beloved, among the hundreds of adoring comments that accumulate under her on her videos there are many «I wish I was like you».

It’s a delicate matter, because short bangs and amateur tattoos and Lana Del Rey and psychiatric hospitalization are part of the starter pack of a shared aesthetic. I ask Mirna: “I absolutely do not want to romanticize what I went through, unfortunately I had an experience that I do not want to go into too much detail in order not to invade the privacy of this person because he is a minor, but he tried to emulate me in self-damaging behavior to end up in psychiatry and share everything on TikTok. Unfortunately this is a reality: you make the video in psychiatry and you will get more attention because oh god drama, what happened, you are crazy, interesting, more interesting than making a video in the park. A lot of people are more interested in pain, strong emotions, tears: there is a video in which I cry that has 4 million views, because I am showing my authentic emotion, and among Gen Z this is what it is about. fashion, just think of the photo dump, where you post junk photos that nobody should see of your camera roll, but you show them to your followers to show how natural you are. We are rebelling against this image of the perfect influencer to show a reality that, however, is also built, because even that is designed for a certain eye, for a certain aesthetic, so even that in the end is false ».

“I would never want someone to emulate me”, Mirna continues in her vocals (her profile picture on Whatsapp is a pink plush bunny), “but rather she would see how much suffering there is behind, to shed more light on the borderline from my point of view, even if a little ‘I got tired of talking about it because a person who has the borderline is not only that, it is not only his personality disorder but it is much more. But the advice I can give if you want the clout, if you want online fame – which in the end are not worth a shit – be yourself, at least that’s what worked for me, and there is no need to emulate negative behavior, because what people are looking for is authenticity ». We conclude with a very practical question: the first thing they did, when they admitted me to a psychiatric clinic years ago, was to withdraw the phone. How does it work now? “You could have kept the phone all the time, then you had it recharged [deduco che non lasciavano il cavo per la ricarica, nda]I was in a wheelchair and I was constantly passing in the cage where it was recharging to see if it had recharged enough to be able to use it ».

Notes for the future in the light of the data collected. In Italy, the funding provided for the psychologist bonus makes it possible to satisfy an approximate audience of 16,000 people: there were more than 210,000 applications. Politically, economically, climatically, a future awaits us that will test even the most mentally healthy of us. We are in the hands of teenagers who have lived the crucial years of their youth within the walls of the house, with their parents on their heels, the only way out is the telephone and the PC. What’s happening on TikTok is evidently an attempt at self-healing, as such chaotic and problematic. Off the phone, the taboo persists, often perpetrated by the sick themselves: I don’t feel guilty at all when I spend 300 euros on a filler, but I still feel terrible when I have to pay the psychologist and psychiatrist. Why am I forced to spend all this money on my health? When it will end? Thinking about mental illness continues to scare us. Those who do not suffer from it tend to not care or consider those who are exposed to cringe, those who suffer from it struggle to find the right way to do it (I raise my hand). I would not want to bring bad luck, but I fear we will be forced to talk about it more and more.

We want to thank the writer of this short article for this remarkable material

On TikTok you can talk about mental disorders like never before

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