TikTok/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The tolls of TikTok: How the app is affecting our mental health

TikTok, formerly named Musical.ly, has taken the world by storm since its release in 2016. Renowned for its short-form videos on various topics, the app has cemented its place at the top of the social media industry. With its addictive and engaging content, TikTok has amassed over one billion active users worldwide, surpassing the likes of Snapchat, Twitter, and Reddit.

Despite its surge in popularity, particularly amongst people of a similar age to myself, I am glad to say I have veered away from the app entirely. I find many aspects of the app concerning, chiefly its impact on our mental health, (I often take breaks from social media for this exact reason). However, I find TikTok a particularly dangerous app in regards to affecting mental health.

The biggest issue with TikTok is the infinite scroll. The app is designed to keep us engaged for as long as possible, with one video playing automatically after the other. As an avid user of streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney Plus, I have never liked the 20-second countdown before the next episode in a series starts. It is inviting, designed to tempt us into watching another episode. What was meant to be a half hour break can become a three hour binge-watch, and the same can be said for TikTok.

I find TikTok to be an unnecessary distraction that seems to do more harm than good

You have to actively tell yourself to stop, counteracting the addictive nature of the app. The app’s colours, algorithm, and targeted videos are intended to keep users engaged for as long as possible. The slogan “make your day” becomes largely counterintuitive, considering the platform is intentionally designed to keep you away from doing anything else. It breeds procrastination, invites addiction, and is an easy cycle to get caught up in.

This addictive cycle of infinite scrolling is not what places TikTok on a higher level than Snapchat Spotlight or Instagram Reels. I am guilty of spending too much time on Instagram too. However, I can actively stop myself when I feel things are becoming too much. In the case of TikTok, I fear it’ll be a lot harder to do.

I can’t help but feel excessive screen time is holding me back somehow, especially at university, where things are constantly happening, I find TikTok to be an unnecessary distraction which does more harm than good. Pulling off an all-nighter to do that assignment due the next day (we’ve all been there) becomes a whole lot harder when the world of TikTok sits alluringly before you.

It begs the question, what is it all for? In theory, all we truly get from it is a bit of dopamine. It’s a fruit-machine type set up, as if every time you let the next video play is another coin you’ve put into the coin slot. Intrinsically, we expect some sort of reward from it, but what do we really get? Invariably, we are rewarded with an hour’s worth of distraction (sometimes more) to the point where you’ve entirely lost track of time. It is the antithesis of its very own #makeeverysecondcount.

Refraining from [social media] does evoke this sense of missing out, particularly when it so rife amongst our generation

With the social media I use, I feel a sense of guilt when I look at my screen time and I’ve spent an hour on an app without even realising it. I am mentally at my best when I set 30-minute reminders to actively tell me to stop, which I promise myself to stick to. I don’t need to waste time on things I don’t wish to see or (even worse) things algorithms think I want to see. Half the time, you lose control over what you’re watching and it only takes one video about a sensitive topic to dampen the mood. My approach is leaning toward that of “prevention is better than cure”: in other words, I’m telling myself to cut it out.

However, I admit that it is challenging to do, especially in a world that is so dependent on social media. Refraining from it does evoke this sense of missing out, particularly when it is so rife amongst our generation. Although I think it’s worth it, as it truly is liberating not to be driven by constant distractions.

All this isn’t to say that TikTok is all bad, as it certainly isn’t. As with social media in general, it is a great way to connect with those around you, find common interests and engage in fun and unique ways.

Ultimately, it comes down to the question of how much is enough. For some people, an hour a day is nothing. It may not even be enough. However, it is far too much for me. Only we know how TikTok really makes us feel, but it requires us to take a step back and actively break the cycle to protect our mental health, which can be very difficult.


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