Scrolling through TikTok, you may stumble upon a video describing vague symptoms of a fever, joint pain and a rash. The creator goes on to speak about how these symptoms led them to book a doctor's appointment where they were diagnosed with lupus. Open up the comments section and you'll see various exclamations of, "I have all these symptoms too and I've been wondering what it was forever" or, "Making a doctor's appointment ASAP."

Health fears are growing as we move into the post-COVID era and social media platforms are exacerbating these fears. According to the Pew Research Center, 97% of children aged 13-17 use social media. Social media's role in health awareness is growing as more and more kids turn their phones for health answers and teen health education. Whether these young people are looking for a common connection with others or a quick explanation for a conglomerate of symptoms, the rise of self-diagnosis and growing health fears are concerning experts.

Why are social media induced health fears rising? Some possible explanations

According to Harvard Health Publishing, health anxiety is quite common among men and women alike – affecting 4% to as much as 12% of the population. It is normal to be concerned about your health, but health anxiety and general concern are very different. Worrying about a sore throat being a contagious virus is normal, while worrying that a headache is indicative of brain cancer is not. Post-pandemic health fears are rising, and this can especially be seen in adolescents who experienced a major health crisis at a pivotal brain development stage.

Not only is social media increasing physical health-related fears among young people, but mental health-related fears as well. Content creators are openly discussing their diagnoses, coping skills and general experiences with various mental health problems while young kids, teenagers and young adults are watching. Young people may self-identify with these influencers' descriptions of ADHD and autism, and quickly jump to the conclusion that they too have these conditions, even though the symptoms experienced could be related to other mental health issues or be normal.

The dangers of self-diagnosis

It's understandable that someone struggling with poor mental health or physical health issues would self-diagnose in an attempt to feel validated and more in control of their situation, but self-diagnosis can be dangerous. Inaccurate self-diagnosis can create a delay in determining the actual underlying cause of the patient's symptoms, which can postpone proper diagnosis and treatment. Self-diagnosers might try self-medication with over-the-counter drugs and therapies, which might exacerbate the issue or lead to an additional, unrelated problem.

What the experts say: Social media platform and health misinformation

Researchers have begun exploring the link of social media use to heightened anxiety and misinformation. While this kind of research is new and additional research is needed to make definitive connections, the current findings might make you think twice before allotting screentime to your kids.

A study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that falsehoods have a 70% higher chance of being propagated than the truth on Twitter and go "further, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth."

While cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often encouraged by licensed psychologists, researchers from Indiana University found that falsehoods about its effectiveness for those suffering from PTSD were being spread on TikTok. CBT has empirical support as a treatment for PTSD, but people relying on information from TikTok might be dissuaded from trying out this treatment because of the falsehoods being spread.

On TikTok, misinformation about liver disease is prevalent in 4 in 10 posts and promote inaccurate claims about fad diets and herbal remedies, reports AAAS and EurekAlert!.

According to research published in the National Institute of Health, increased use of social media by young people was linked to negative body image, poor self-esteem and a decrease in sleep – all of which related to higher depressive symptom scores. Not only are poor body image, self-esteem and sleep a problem in-and-of themselves but could lead to the development of further medical issues such as eating disorders and anxiety.

Strategies to mitigate the issue

Parents can take certain steps to mitigate social media's negative effects on their kids but must remember that each child is different and a tailored approach to their specific needs will always work best. If a young person seems frustrated after using social media, it might not be from what they viewed, but from underlying feelings. Open communication up with your kid and discuss those feelings and where they are coming from – a place of self doubt, feeling left out or something deeper.

A popular strategy many parents have utilized is setting screen times. Consider supplementing this with screen-free time at family dinners, Sunday evenings or homework time. At the end of the day, the approach that will work best will be one that your kid helped develop. Get their input and help them be successful by setting an example and following those rules yourself.

The future of social media and health fears

As we move into a post-COVID era, heightened anxiety surrounding health will eventually subside and return to pre-pandemic levels. More knowledge on the best ways to support young people in using social media without exacerbating health concerns will become available as research on social media's impact on anxiety and health continues. In the meantime, finding an individualized approach that works for you and your kid can help alleviate social media's potential negative effects.