Lauren* disagrees, and believes it’s important for others to see this side of healthcare, as well as therapeutic for the person making the videos. She was hospitalised for several weeks after her self harm started to become more regular, but she believes that letting young people do something that they enjoy whilst in hospital is therapy in itself: “Patients should be allowed to film TikToks if it preoccupies their minds. If it’s not hurting anyone else and stops them from potentially hurting themselves, how can it possibly be seen as a bad thing? It’s common for psychiatric wards to allow patients to partake in hobby activities like painting as a form of therapy, so why not go with the flow and apply this frame of mind to modern forms of expression?”
The use of TikTok in such institutions could certainly be argued as therapeutic. It is well known that the encouragement of creativity, namely art, is used as a treatment for people who are working at their mental rehabilitation. The Bethlem Gallery, an attachment of London’s Bethlem Hospital where people are treated for mental health issues, supports and displays artists who are currently at the hospital or have previously been admitted. On the Bethlem Gallery website, you are met with a quote from one of their patients that reads: “Pills are ok, counselling is ok and it will get you back on the streets, but what keeps your mind alive is what you learn here. That’s what it’s about – keeping your spirit alive.”
Honey Langcaster-James agrees that fostering creative outlets is a great way to reduce symptoms for many: “Allowing young people to use social media as a platform for self-expression, whether it’s TikTok or any other platform, opens the potential for a creative outlet, self-expression, and remaining connected with your online community.
“For some people, this can help them to reduce anxiety – if you’ve had to go into hospital, maintaining contact with your social network, even if that networking online, can be very beneficial to reduce anxiety and stress.”
However, it’s the very concept of normalising graphic images and the discussion of poor mental health that proves to be a double-edged sword, making it impossible to say if psych ward TikTok is a profoundly good place to be. Although it clearly divides opinion, this section of the app seems to generally be a positive transaction for both sides… for now. The people making them get to have fun and educate, whilst their videos are very well received on the app, gaining hundreds of thousands of likes from people that are genuinely interested in seeing what really goes on.
Lee*, who was hospitalised for a week in 2015, believes that these TikTok videos do well to break the image that the psychiatric hospital is a scary place, but simultaneously prove problematic by virtue of the app’s “trend-obsessed” structure: “These TikToks show that the people in hospitals aren’t ‘crazy’ or deluded, but are actually normal patients like any you’d see in a normal hospital. People instantly think of criminals and serial killers when they think of psych wards, whereas these videos show that this just isn’t the case.
@miavaughanevans26sorry had to repost one of my viral vids ##foryou ##foryoupage ##magic ##psychward ##psychwardstories♬ original sound – Mia Vaughan Evans
“However, when it comes to the whole point of TikTok, which is to be obsessed with trends and following what others are doing, there’s plenty to be said about how putting content like this on the app could have negative repercussions with younger audiences.”
In September, 15-year-old Chloe Marie Phillips died after taking part in the “Benadryl Challenge”, a trend that saw TikTokers take large amounts of the antihistamine on camera in an attempt to hallucinate. This is only the latest in a series of trends on the app that have been replicated out of curiosity and the pursual of popularity.
Honey echoes Lee’s statement regarding the model of video sharing on the app being contributory to trends like these being repeated by acknowledging that even the harmful trends are just as likely to spread: “The idea that a TikTok craze can garner so much traction that everyone will copy shows there is an implicit encouragement on the platform to start trends. This has to be carefully thought about when the platform then may encourage trends that aren’t actually very helpful to people.
“It is brilliant that people are sharing their stories, and reducing stigma and opening up and talking about mental health. It’s brilliant that we’ve got to a point in society where people open up about that conversation. But we also need to be aware that we do live still in a world where there is stigma and there is discrimination. And so we need to still think carefully about what we share online about our own lives and our own stories.”
TikTok didn’t respond to our request for comment.