Teen's in mental health crisis turning to TikTok, social media instead of parents

A growing number of teenagers are suffering from some sort of mental health crisis. Even more alarming, many aren't getting the help they need and some are turning to social media instead of talking with their parents about it.

The issue is getting some serious attention at the Texas Medical Center.

In fact, according to Texas Children's Hospital, the need for emergency mental health intervention among children nationwide is four times higher today than it was two years ago. So, Texas Children's is responding to this escalating post-pandemic problem in a number of ways.

"Since COVID we've seen increasing rates of kids reporting and presenting with concerns, especially related to depression and anxiety," explains Texas Children's Hospital Psychologist Dr. Katherine Gallagher.


As mental health issues for kids significantly grow a recent study says teens turning to social media for advice is skyrocketing with #mentalhealth being searched on TikTok more than 67 billion times, which is concerning for parents we spoke with.

"Yes, very much so," says one Houston mom. 

"That's just really scary. Anybody can put anything on the internet," adds Elizabeth who's a mother of two.

"Anybody can put their opinion there, and you don't know if they're right or wrong," says concerned Houstonian Carlos.

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Dr. Gallagher says not only is there a real risk of kids receiving unreliable information online, but an attempt at self-treatment and diagnosis is also downright dangerous. So, if some kids are turning to social media for help, and they're not turning to their parents, moms need to look for certain signs. "Mood changes, low energy, sleep disruption, disengagement from the family, to an extent that's beyond what's expected," Dr. Gallagher explains.

To help address the mental health concerns that more children seem to be suffering, at Texas Children's Hospital a Behavioral Health Task Force was recently formed, pediatricians have now been trained to screen for such issues, and to make diagnoses and treatment for families more accessible mental health specialists are being embedded with pediatricians.

"There are already a number of psychologists who have joined the different pediatrician practices throughout Texas Children's," says Dr. Gallagher. 

Why are so many teens struggling with mental health? "A lot of times it's social media that causes them to have all kinds of mental conditions. (And then they're going right back to that same place for tips?) Yep it's just like a loop, a never-ending loop," adds one Houston dad, and he isn't wrong.

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"Researchers are beginning to study what they call digital stress and how that affects teen mental health," Dr. Gallagher explains, and she says according to that research social media can contribute to some mental health issues in kids because of things like fear of missing out. "I have to be there to participate, or I'm going to be left out".

Dr. Gallagher also points out kids may be constantly comparing themselves to others online and feeling like fakes who can't portray their real selves on social media. "Maybe an under-appreciation of how everyone else is doing that too. They're portraying this idealized image, but that isn't necessarily what their day-to-day existence is" Dr. Gallagher explains.

When a kid is hurt physically a parent can clearly see it. When they're hurting mentally what should parents look for to know their child is suffering a mental health crisis? "If you notice your child is experiencing a lot of distress or changes in their functioning or their behavior, they're more withdrawn," Dr. Gallagher answers and she says she's not suggesting you take social media away. 

She says you can help kids realize they may need to limit their time by asking. "After you've spent two hours on social media how do you feel?  Do you feel energized and rejuvenated? Do you feel kind of down, and tired and bad. It can be kind of eye-opening for kids" and Dr. Gallagher says don't be afraid to ask other parents what works for them to stay mentally connected to their kids.


"We check in every morning, every evening. We have a Feelings Wheel. We talk about how we feel so they can tell me more about why they're happy or why they're sad," explains Elizabeth who's a Houston mom of two.

"I try to let him know whatever problems he's facing or trouble he's having he's able to come and talk to us. I feel like open communication is how I deal with that," adds Kimberly who's a mom of 3. 

It sounds so simple but really just having a good conversation with your kid can tell you so much about what's going on with them. So just how important is it to have regular conversations with your kids? 

"It's so important. I can't overstate it," Dr. Gallagher adds and she reminds us, you can't just have just one conversation, but rather regular chats, and follow up when your kiddo reveals something significant in their lives.

She suggests talking with a pediatrician if you have a mental health concern about your child.