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How Does TikTok Affect Mental Health?

TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms in the UK, with a peak monthly active user count of 9.2 million in October 2021. Despite its popularity, TikTok is relatively new compared to competitors such as Facebook and Instagram, but has gained traction with younger audiences due to its format of short, viral videos. This means little research has been carried out on the true effects of TikTok on mental health, but a combination of experts from universities - mostly based in the US - and news institutions have taken interest in this growing phenomenon.

While the app offers some unique takes on mental health support, as one New York therapist highlights the ability of young people to discuss trauma and mental health issues, mental health experts express concern for this method of 'trauma dumping', stating that this can just lead to additional trauma - including body image issues, especially if it is recommended to other users via the algorithm who may find the content upsetting.

TikTok and body image

Body image issues are one of the most common complaints that people of all ages have about TikTok. Weight loss, health and dieting trends have long been spread around social media and through other platforms such as TV, films and the news, but they are especially dangerous to those who struggle with body image issues on TikTok. In a US investigation into the effects of TikTok trend videos on body image, Jiayan Liu states that "body imaging is one of the most stereotyped" values in the public mindset. The US investigation found that:

  • Girls who regularly engage in social media are six times more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours; while
  • Boys are four times more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours.

TikTok is a prime platform for unrealistic body standards to be shared; due to TikTok's short, viral videos that are shown to users via an algorithm built from what the platform deems their interests to be, it is all the more likely that users will be bombarded by content surrounding body image.

Additionally, as users are easily able to post their own content, it is easier for them to find their own perceived flaws in their own content and feel self-conscious about these. This is escalated further by other users having the ability to leave comments on videos and create parody or collaborative content through 'stitches', which allow one user to show another's video and put their own edit or commentary on it. It is not uncommon for bullying to take place in online spaces, but TikTok offers a unique way for users to criticise each other.

What is BDD?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder that causes an individual to focus obsessively on their looks and compare themselves to other people. Due to this, it is frequently linked to the influence of social media and other media outlets that promote unrealistic body standards.

Someone suffering from BDD may:

  • Worry about a specific aspect of their body
  • Spend a lot of time looking at themselves in a mirror, or avoid mirrors completely
  • Spend a lot of time trying to cover up perceived flaws
  • Pick at their skin or undergo procedures to change aspects of their body

BDD can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, which can severely impact a person's ability to feel comfortable and function in daily life. BDD can also lead to physical health issues due to unhealthy dieting or issues with cosmetic surgery.

While it is impossible to state whether social media platforms such as TikTok directly cause mental health conditions such as BDD, it is not a stretch to assume that those who spend lots of time-consuming content about body image may have their insecurities amplified, and that this may lead to the worsening of BDD.

What can those suffering from BDD do?

BDD can not be solved by making changes to your body through cosmetic surgery - it is often speculated that BDD can lead to cosmetic surgery addiction, which is not a conclusively recognised addiction, but is the concept of constant dissatisfaction with cosmetic procedures and feeling the need to get more.

Instead, those with BDD should seek therapy from a mental health specialist to help them understand their perceived flaws and take steps in their day-to-day lives.

Does TikTok influence users to seek cosmetic surgery?

In the UK, it is illegal for plastic surgery to be marketed to children through paid targeted promotion. However, there is nothing stopping plastic surgeons from promoting their services on TikTok through free videos. In 2021, the hashtag '#nosejob' accumulated more than 1.9 billion views; considering the issues we have discussed in this blog post, and the fact that a US study found an increase in facial plastic surgeries carried out in 2021, it is clear to see that TikTok's facial filters and cosmetic surgery influencers have the potential to affect its userbase's desire to seek cosmetic surgery.

What can be done?

With so many users on TikTok, it presents a space for learning, both positive and negative. While the online space may allow for the creation of communities, its implications regarding bullying, mental health and body image issues are undeniable, and the effects of these are only just being realised.

If you are struggling with body image issues or BDD, you should consider seeking help before you attempt to undergo irreversible cosmetic surgery that could leave you with undesirable results.

For more advice on what to do if you find yourself struggling with the unwanted side effects of cosmetic surgery, browse Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors' services or call us today for legal advice. We will help you to understand your situation and advise you on your legal options. Contact our team at 0808 115 8204 or fill out an online contact form and we will call you back at a time convenient for you.

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Mike Saul


Michael Saul is a partner at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors, where he brings his extensive specialist legal expertise and passion for helping people to the forefront of his work. With a proven track record of success in cosmetic surgery negligence cases, Michael has dedicated his career to providing clients with the highest level of representation and achieving favourable outcomes.

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