Is TikTok Harmful to Mental Health?

Photo credit: Alicia Bruce and Ronnie Bruce

Photo credit: Alicia Bruce and Ronnie Bruce

River Dalley, Writer

With over 1 billion monthly active users, the social media app TikTok is undoubtedly popular. It’s not hard to see why; TikTok’s easy accessibility and plethora of content make it a simple and addictive source of entertainment. It can also provide a platform for entertainers, small business owners or even myself. 

However, what lies underneath the candy-coated exterior of Tiktok is an addictive and possibly even dangerous platform that many users seem to not be able to log off of. Due to its addictive nature and harmful content, TikTok as a platform is dangerous and addictive for its users.

According to CNN, TikTok users spent an average of an hour and a half on the platform a day in 2020. This is a considerably long time to spend on a single social media app.

CNN states that a college student by the name of Jerome Yankey would “pull all-nighters… scrolling on TikTok.” As a result of this, Yankey’s health plummeted, and “he lost sleep, his grades suffered, and he fell out of touch with friends and himself.”

After deleting the app in 2021, Yankey claimed that there was a “positive impact.” He said that it was “great to be able to be up early and be more productive with the sun,” and “sleep again starting at midnight.”

There undoubtedly seems to be a pattern forming. TikTok’s endless amount of content easily sucks its users in, a tactic that can carry serious consequences. 

I conducted a survey of the students at Bellows Free Academy asking participants about their day-to-day TikTok usage. 

Out of the 32 people that responded to the survey, 25 of them recall being a TikTok user at one point in their lives. Nineteen say that they still use the app to this day. 

Fifteen out of the 25 TikTok-using subjects report using the app for more than an hour a day on average.

When the subjects were asked why they use TikTok as much as they do, the responses were relatively unanimous: TikTok is a rapid and easy source of entertainment.

“I used to use it more than I do now, but I still use it for quite a long time,” Quinn Stanley (‘24) said. “It’s really addicting to scroll through as it’s really just fast-paced, mindless entertainment.” 

TikTok’s easy accessibility and fast pace make for an endless pool of entertainment that doesn’t require much thought.

Others pinned their TikTok usage on feeling connected to the rest of the world. An anonymous respondent, who said they use TikTok for over three hours a day on average, said that they like the easy connections one can make through the app.

“It helps me feel connected to people without having to actually connect with them,” they said. “I’m very introverted, but being on social media like this helps me feel like I have the ability to connect with people, but also the ability to end that connection at any time that best supports me.”

I also asked respondents about how TikTok has affected their mental health.

Some users cited that TikTok only positively affected them. “It gives me many different perspectives on situations; so much that I’m forced to make my own opinion instead of following one person,” Cassie Webber (‘26) said. Other respondents appreciated the creativity aspect of the platform.

Based on the survey results, there is no doubt that TikTok has a wide variety of short-form content that is easy to digest and binge, making it a hit among users. TikTok can also be a good platform for people to connect with their friends and for creators to express themselves. However, TikTok’s content, fast pace and toxic content contribute to why I think TikTok is ultimately a harmful platform.

I first downloaded TikTok in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 quarantine began. I installed it as a means of killing time at home as there really wasn’t much else to do. 

I was immediately addicted. It was my go-to source of entertainment whenever I had some free time. The content was so easily accessible and quite literally endless; I loved it. 

I also had my five minutes of fame on the platform: specializing in comedy videos and just general random thoughts, my TikTok account amassed millions of likes and tens of thousands of followers. It was a great outlet for me to express my creativity and ideas. Anyone could become TikTok famous, even me.

However, my TikTok account has since been deleted. Not because I broke a community guideline and got terminated; I deleted the account, and all of my videos myself. 

Why? Well, it’s simple: TikTok had a terribly negative impact on my health. The content became repetitive and increasingly toxic, and I would waste hours a day endlessly scrolling, trying to find something that wasn’t negative. It seemed like every video I saw contained blatant bullying, a depressing news event or repetitive and annoying content with no substance or redeeming qualities. 

TikTok was also horrible for my self-esteem; seeing perfect-looking TikTok stars living their perfect lives in Los Angeles or New York City really got to me. I found myself wishing I was in their position, making me feel worse about myself as a result.

I deleted TikTok in April of 2022, and it has been a very healthy improvement in my life. I spend less time on my phone, and I feel better about myself now than I did before I deleted the app.

I’m not alone in my experience: quite a few survey respondents stated that TikTok affected them negatively, as well. 

“It set a certain standard for ‘likable people’ that was unachievable for me, which would make me sad,” Bug Galuzska (‘23) said. “Then I would see other[s] also struggling with mental health, which made me feel worse.”

Another anonymous respondent said that TikTok has negatively affected their attention span. With the fast-paced and short-form nature of the platform, it isn’t hard to see why.

Many respondents even deleted the app, including Galuzska, who stated that deletion has had a positive impact on their health.

“I found that it was hard at first because so much of my time was normally spent mindlessly scrolling,” Galuzska said. “Eventually, I found I had new time to read, or do schoolwork and overall it made me feel so much better.”

As I mentioned before, my own personal experience with deleting the app has had positive effects on my health, too. My unhealthy relationship with TikTok eventually faded out when I deleted it, and it made me feel infinitely better as a result.

If my survey and research have taught me anything, they taught me that while not everyone shares my same experience with TikTok, it is evident that it can have negative impacts on one’s mental health. Self-esteem issues, sadness and addiction have stemmed from one’s usage of TikTok. 

Some respondents said that these issues don’t just stem from TikTok, but from all social media. While I am inclined to agree, there is no denying that TikTok is a part of the problem.

Even the developers of TikTok themselves have noticed the negative impact of the app: According to USA Today, TikTok announced that the app is enforcing a 60-minute-a-day time limit on users under the age of 18, a limit that can only be bypassed via passcode. 

Even though the limit can be bypassed easily, in my opinion, this limit is a step in the right direction for the platform as it may help prevent further damage from being done to TikTok users everywhere.