Videos detailing how your common habits may be actually ADHD symptoms have amassed billions of views on TikTok.
Experts worry the flood of content from influencers is reinforcing stereotypes and encouraging inaccurate self-diagnoses.
TikTok creators’ can fail to explain the habits — such as skin picking, irritability and fidgeting — can have other causes, such as anxiety or depression.
Here, Dr Punit Shah, a psychologist and expert in neurodiversity from the University of Bath, explains which symptoms are not always a sign of ADHD.
Repetitive skin picking, lip biting or nail picking is sometimes seen among people with ADHD.
So TikTok influencers say these behaviours are signs you may have the disorder.
One video by psychiatrist @thepsychdoctormd, which shows her biting her lip and discussing how it is a sign of ADHD, has more than 1million views.
But experts warn that these habits cannot be used to diagnose ADHD and they may instead be a sign of another condition — or just a bad habit.
Dr Shah said: ‘Some of the more commonly known mental health conditions that [ADHD] overlaps with are actually things like anxiety and depression. A lot of the symptoms and characteristics in anxiety and ADHD are quite similar.’
A video by psychiatrist @thepsychdoctormd, who has 899.8K followers on TikTok, pictured above suggests lip biting and skin picking is a sign of ADHD. She also says hair twirling and scalp picking are also characteristics of ADHD
He added: ‘Repetitive behaviours is actually a diagnostic characteristic of autism. It might also be anxiety or stress related.’
However, these actions may be a ‘habitual thing that is not medically related’, Dr Shah warned.
Having trouble concentrating and focusing on tasks is a common ADHD symptom recognised by the NHS.
Making mistakes at work or school, not sticking to tasks and getting easily distracted are some of the main signs of inattentiveness, according to the health service.
A TikTok video on the five signs of ADHD by @meltsinfusions, who has 180,000 followers, states ‘daydreaming’ is a symptom. It is accompanied by a clip of her staring into space.
But Dr Shah warned that this is an ‘exaggeration’ and a ‘performance’ and not always a true depiction of the disorder.
‘Inattention and mind wondering are classically ADHD like symptoms and traits. But some of these videos stereotype it as being excessive mind wondering or daydreaming’, he said.
A TikTok video on the five signs of ADHD by @meltsinfusions, who has 182.4K followers, states ‘daydreaming’ and ‘trouble focusing’ is a symptom of ADHD. The TikTok influencer, pictured, demonstrates herself looking around to show trouble focusing
Daydreaming and mind wondering are ‘natural phenomenon’ experienced by everyone as a way for the brain to process information, Dr Shah said.
He added: ‘It is likely to be a feature of ADHD when they become excessive and start interfering with daily life, but they are also natural features of human cognition.’
A call being put on hold or long advert breaks are common annoyances.
But TikTok influencer @cobywatts_, who has 1.4million followers, says these irritations, as well as waiting on a person arriving, a parcel being delivered or to speak their turn are five ‘triggers’ for people with ADHD.
While the NHS states that feeling restless or impatient are signs of ADHD, they are also general frustrations many relate to.
TikTok influencer @cobywatts_, who has 1.4million followers, suggests waiting for adverts (left) and being put on hold (right) are ‘triggers’ for ADHD
Dr Shah said: ‘You will have people who are just highly irritable and impatient people that may not have ADHD and ADHD might just slightly increase your tendency to be irritable and have difficulty regulating your emotions.
‘But it is not a diagnostic feature of ADHD.’
He added: ‘If you are irritable and impatient and that is the only thing you have and you have issues with that it is unlikely you are going to have ADHD.
‘You might just have characteristics that are also linked to ADHD. It is important to distinguish between those things.’
Being forgetful and losing items are characteristics of ADHD, according to the NHS.
But, again, it’s not always a sign of the disorder.
A TikTok under the ADHD hashtag, posted by @olivialutfallah, who has 320,000 followers, shows a mock ‘simulation’ of her trying to sit down to eat her dinner but getting side tracked by different tasks, such as getting cutlery and a drink.
A TikTok video by @olivialutfallah, who has 323.5K followers, shows her trying to sit down to eat her dinner but getting side tracked by different tasks, such as getting cutlery and a drink
However, Dr Shah said there is no evidence that memory issues on their own are related to ADHD.
Instead, he believes this symptom is a sign of inattention.
‘It might be an attentional thing and it might happen as a result of attentional issues, but ADHD isn’t an issue with memory’, says Dr Shah.
He added: ‘Forgetfulness might arise as a result of not paying attention to things around you.’
Jiggling your leg, twirling your hair and fidgeting in your seat are examples of excessive physical movement that are common characteristics of ADHD, according to the NHS.
A video by @clairebowmanofficial, who has 560,000 followers, shows ‘how to spot an ADHDer in public’ by depicting some of these hyperactive tendencies.
In the video she is jiggling her leg and moving in her seat and showing signs of hyperactivity. But just being fidgety isn’t a sure sign you have ADHD.
A video by @clairebowmanofficial, who has 560.3K followers, shows ‘how to spot an ADHDer in public’ by depicting some of these hyperactive tendencies including twitching her ankle (left) and bouncing her knee (right)
‘Hyperactivity can be a characteristic of ADHD, but fidgetiness alone without having any other characteristics is unlikely to be a diagnostic feature of ADHD’, Dr Shah said.
He said: ‘We all have ADHD personality traits, so we might all have some of those characteristics.
‘It’s just more in that extreme end of the spectrum where you have a lot of attentional issues and hyperactivity.’
He noted that many of the videos highlighting ADHD symptoms using relatable situations are not created by medics, leaving some people vulnerable to ‘over interpreting’ the clips.
‘Although videos on TikTok and across social media are a great way of raising awareness and getting people thinking about and learning about ADHD, people need to remember that these are individual experiences often by non-trained people’, says Dr Shah.
‘It is great to get the discussions going, but people do have a tendency to over rely on and over interpret these sorts of videos’, he added.
WHAT IS ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition defined by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
It affects around five per cent of children in the US. Some 3.6 per cent of boys and 0.85 per cent of girls suffer in the UK.
Symptoms typically appear at an early age and become more noticeable as a child grows. These can also include:
- Constant fidgeting
- Poor concentration
- Excessive movement or talking
- Acting without thinking
- Inability to deal with stress
- Little or no sense of danger
- Careless mistakes
- Mood swings
- Difficulty organising tasks
- Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
- Inability to listen or carry out instructions
Most cases are diagnosed between six and 12 years old. Adults can also suffer, but there is less research into this.
ADHD’s exact cause is unclear but is thought to involve genetic mutations that affect a person’s brain function and structure.
Premature babies and those with epilepsy or brain damage are more at risk.
ADHD is also linked to anxiety, depression, insomnia, Tourette’s and epilepsy.
There is no cure.
A combination of medication and therapy is usually recommended to relieve symptoms and make day-to-day life easier.
Source: NHS Choices
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