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Social Media and the Impact of ADHD Stigma Among Youths

(Image from Medium: "Can Social Media Improve your Mental Health?")


Author: Erica Igere

Editor: Nadia Hall


Abstract

With the continued growth of social media platforms, many people are taking the initiative to raise awareness about mental illnesses and disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For example, as of May 2022, TikTok has received 11.4 billion views on ADHD-related content (Abdelnour, 2022). Studies have shown that social media promotes mental health awareness (Latha et al., 2020), but there is little research investigating whether social media content prevents or worsens mental health stigma, particularly toward ADHD. In this study, youths aged 13 to 24 were recruited to answer questions about their initial thoughts about ADHD and how their views improved or worsened after discovering ADHD content on social media. Numerical codes were then created for each pre-question and post-question to approximate the pre-perception and post-perception averages. Our findings suggest that the average post-perception is lower than the average pre-perception, indicating that social media content fosters negative ADHD perceptions.


Introduction

ADHD is a disorder that diverts attention, enables hyperactivity, and increases impulsive behavior (Mayo Clinic, 2019). It is a common disorder, affecting more than 8.7 million adults in the United States alone (Wirth, 2023); however, much stigma has been placed on ADHD and other mental illnesses (Kellison, 2010). As demonstrated in a 2007 study by Anna K. Mueller, Anselm B. M. Fuermaier, Janneke Koerts, and Lara Tucha, 25% of the respondents did not want their child to make friends with someone who has ADHD, and 50% of the surveyed adult participants had a stigma against help-seeking behavior such as psychotherapy or medication (Mueller et al., 2012). The presence of this stigma is harmful because it is detrimental to both children with ADHD and their parents, as well as adults who have ADHD. Such a stigma can permeate the workplace and school, leading to internalized stigma, or self-stigma, which is when people with the condition begin to believe these negative stereotypes about themselves. Furthermore, self-stigma can lead to even more significant issues that result from delayed care-seeking, such as anxiety and lowered self-esteem (Lovering, 2022). However, a number of factors have changed since the study was conducted in 2007, one of them being the growth of ADHD awareness, particularly through social media. Some sources claim that many influencers have benefited the ADHD community. Influencers include Jessica McCabe, who created a YouTube channel called “How to ADHD” and has garnered an audience of 10 million people. Through her content, she has helped educate people about ADHD and its basis in neuroscience (CHADD,  n.d).


On the contrary, other sources say that ADHD awareness on social media is misleading. According to researcher Anthony Yeung and his research team, after viewing 100 of the most popular TikTok videos on ADHD and categorizing each one as either "useful” (scientifically accurate), "personal experience," or "misleading," results suggest that only 21% of the videos were useful, containing information about diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis (2022). Although Yeung et al. (2022) acknowledge that social media can increase people's knowledge of mental health, they also express concerns about misinformation and unwarranted anxiety. Amongst mixed information from different sources, the lines become blurred on whether or not ADHD social media videos are spreading positive information regarding ADHD by creating less public stigma and promoting help-seeking behavior for those with ADHD.


As social media is widely used among young people, the current study recruited youths aged 13-24 to answer a questionnaire called “ADHD Perception through Social Media”. We chose this age group because many changes occur within the brain from adolescence through the mid-twenties (Brain Development in Pre-Teens and Teenagers, 2021), such as in identity, sets of beliefs, and worldviews. Furthermore, given the numerous social media platforms available today, many of which contain content related to mental health, the thinking and reasoning of youths are affected even more.


Therefore, this research aims to assess the perceptions of people viewing ADHD content on social media to identify whether more hours viewed results in a positive perception of ADHD, or if it is doing the opposite.


Method

The participants of this survey completed a quantitative questionnaire via Google Forms. The survey was sent out twice, with the first set of responses collected between May and June 2022 and the second set of responses collected between late June and August 2022. Due to errors in the making of the first questionnaire, the survey for the first set of responses had to be disregarded for the analysis portion to avoid an inaccurate result and conclusion.


The survey used in this study garnered 50 randomly-selected respondents aged 13-24 from social media platforms such as Instagram, Reddit, Survey Swap, and Survey Circle.

Participants were asked demographic questions, such as their age, and number of hours spent on social media. Participants were also asked about their perceptions of ADHD before and after using social media, meaning how participants generally viewed ADHD years before social media exposure versus after viewing mental health-related content on social media. Responses ranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The  questions were developed and modified from the Saudi public perceptions and attitudes toward mental illness and mental health help-seeking questionnaire (Research Gate, n.d). These pre-perception questions/statements ranged from "ADHD is more or less just hyperactivity" to "People with ADHD are insane”. Examples of post-perception statements were "I feel a sense of belonging with not only the ADHD community but also other mental health-related communities'', “most of the ADHD content I've seen on social media has been positive and informative," and "regarding raising awareness, content creators do more harm than good to the ADHD community."


Next, we scored the responses on a scale of 1-5 for pre-perception and post-perception responses. A score of 1 was given to negative perceptions, while a score of 5 was assigned to positive perceptions. For example, if a participant strongly agrees with the statement "People with ADHD are insane," their score for that question would be a 1. If a respondent strongly disagrees with a statement such as "regarding raising awareness, content creators do more harm than good to the ADHD community", their score for that question would be a 5. Finally, the data was transferred to an Excel spreadsheet, and numerical codes were created for each response type. We then averaged participants’ pre-perceptions of ADHD, followed by another set of averages on post-perceptions.


Results

A quantitative survey answered by  50 participants was used to investigate ADHD perception. Eighty percent of the participants were students, 10% were full-time employees, 2% were part-time employees, and 8% preferred not to say. In terms of gender, 56% identify as female, 28% identified as male, and the remaining 16% identified as non-binary, agender, androgynous, or preferred not to say. Finally, 24% of responses came from people aged 24, 20% from people aged 22, 14% from people aged 23, and 42% from people aged 21 and under. The average score for perception of ADHD prior to using social media was pre-perception score 4.245, which was higher than the average score for perception of ADHD after starting to use social media (3.2467), signifying a more negative perception of ADHD after viewing social media content.


Table 1: Sociodemographic variables

Gender

n

%

Male

14

28

Female

29

58

Non-Binary

3

6

Prefer not to say

2

4

Agender

1

2

Androgynous

1

2

Age

 

 

13

2

4

14

1

2

15

1

2

16

2

4

17

5

10

18

2

4

19

4

8

20

2

4

21

2

4

22

10

20

23

7

14

24

12

24

Occupation

 

 

Student

40

80

Full-Time

5

10

Part-Time

1

2

Prefer not to say

4

8

 

Table 2: Averages for Pre-perception and Post-perception data

Pre-perception average

Post-perception average

Average change in perception 

4.245

3.2467

-0.9983

  


Figure 1:  Comparison of pre-perception and post-perception averages



Discussion

Our findings were surprising given that several research outlets, including the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, show social media platforms addressing mental health awareness in a positive light (Latha et al., 2020). There are a few possible explanations for our findings. First, when specific topics about mental disorders begin to trend on social media, misinformation begins to spread, leading to misunderstanding of the condition (Tyler, n.d, as cited in Wood et al., 2021). To further support this claim, the 2022 study by Yeung et al., showed that apart from the 21% of videos identified as "useful" and 27% as "personal experience," the remaining 52% of videos were found to be "misleading," meaning that they lacked scientific evidence (Yeung et al., 2022). This could also explain why, for the post-perception data, a question such as "Regarding "raising awareness, content creators do more harm than good to the ADHD community" received a 41% “disagree” response.

Despite providing some explanations for the results, our study has some limitations. One limitation of this study was the sample size. With only 50 people recruited via social media platforms such as Reddit, Survey Swap, and Survey Circle, we were unable to capture the potential range of users' experiences. Fifty-eight percent of the participants were over the age of 21 years, potentially creating less variability in their responses, in terms of having somewhat less input from younger populations. As mentioned earlier, the first wave of survey data had to be disregarded because an open-ended option was mistakenly placed in some of the questions, creating an imbalance in result interpretation. Finally, the questions used were adapted from the Saudi public perceptions and attitudes toward mental illness and mental health help-seeking questionnaires, and it has yet to be validated among our population- youths 13-24- to ensure if they are effective in truly evaluating people's perception of ADHD.

 

Conclusion

To conclude, social media content is criticized by those who say it fosters negative stigma towards ADHD by reinforcing negative stereotypes. More participants of varying ages could be used in the future to reassess and possibly contradict our findings. Moreover, asking more questions about ADHD instead of how social media handles mental health algorithms could lead to a more positive response trend. With the continued growth in social media use among youth, it is critical to consider many topics that have previously been swept under the rug, such as mental illness/disorder stigma. When it comes to spreading positive awareness but also negative stigma about these topics, large social platforms wield enormous power. As a result, more research on this topic is required to determine where improvements to these apps can be made to better educate and improve people's perceptions of ADHD and other mental health disorders.



 

References

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