Overview | Online ADHD Treatment

The Bigger Picture is a bi-weekly blog that dives deep into culture and analyzes it from a sociological perspective.

It was about two years ago when I finally gave in and downloaded TikTok to help alleviate my quarantine-induced boredom.

I immediately noticed an onslaught of content aimed at people who may or may not have ADHD. It was an algorithmically correct diagnosis, matching what a school psychiatrist gave me in third grade – informing me of the power of the app’s recommendation engine.

Although I didn’t think much of it at the time, I’m starting to feel like this social media content is becoming the harbinger of a possibly worrying trend in healthcare.

TikTok screenshot

Under the ADHD hashtag, millions of videos — mostly created by people without medical or psychiatric training — have amassed more than 10 billion views.

I’m not the only one who thinks ADHD TikTok might be problematic. Talk to AddictionDr. Roberto Olivardia of Harvard Medical School believes this content overgeneralizes the disorder to the detriment of those who suffer from it.

“What I’ve typically observed are videos where ADHD is used so loosely and the person probably doesn’t have ADHD,” Olivardia said. “Being excited or bubbly doesn’t mean you have ADHD. These videos do a disservice to people who actually have ADHD. It helps reduce the credibility of the diagnosis.

It’s completely normal for teens and adults to have trouble doing homework, chores, or paying attention during a conversation. But influencers and companies seem to benefit greatly from pathologizing and addressing these traits.

I watched the rise of the ADHD influencer. It was as if a new and worse type of beauty guru was being formulated before my eyes. From a creator whose online store sells organizational toolkits to help with ADHD, there’s a video explaining how having hobbies is actually “hyperfocus.” Hyperfocus is generally characterized as “an intense state of focus/concentration” when “unrelated external stimuli do not seem to be perceived consciously; sometimes reported as a diminished perception of surroundings” – a very different experience than having special interests or hobbies. For these creators, there seems to be a financial interest in convincing people to self-diagnose.

The TikTok-ADHD marketing pipeline appears to have reached a new milestone with sites like Ended, a sleek telehealth startup offering treatment options for people with ADHD. The company claims individuals could get a diagnosis and possibly treatment, all with a single 30-minute consultation.

I want to say that it is absolutely a good thing that mental health is destigmatized and that treatments are made more accessible. That being said, it’s unclear so far whether or not it’s a good thing that pharmaceutical companies and telehealth providers are starting to join this mental health “normalization” movement.

Yet I can’t help but notice the irony of receiving constant advertisements for an online pill dispenser on TikTok, an endless video channel that appeals to my exact interests and constantly makes it hard for me to pose my phone and do my job.

Colin examines and analyzes daily life in the modern world. Contact him at [email protected].

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