TikTok a Tool in Mental Health Care?

Dinah Miller, MD


June 03, 2021

TikTok's Psychiatrist Sensation

Melissa Shepard, MD

Melissa Shepard, MD (@doctorshepard_md) is also a psychiatrist who posts content on TikTok. With over a million followers, Shepard is TikTok's psychiatrist sensation. She started posting mental health information on Instagram, and then in December 2019 began to cross-post on TikTok. She estimates that she has put up hundreds of videos but does not have an exact number. The Today Show used one of her TikTok videos for a segment on teen mental health.

"It has been cool to contribute to the conversation in this kind of way," Shepard said.

The media attention has been a mixed bag for Shepard. As anyone who talks about psychiatry on social media knows, there are people who are vocal about their anti-psychiatry opinions, and Shepard has not been spared. Sometimes the feedback has been hostile or even threatening.

"There have been ups and downs," she said. "I have thought about stopping, but then I get these amazing messages from people who tell me that my videos made them realize they needed help. So while it has been a bumpy ride, I feel like I'm doing something good."

Shepard's videos are more personal in that she has used TikTok as a forum to discuss her own mental health struggles. "It's scary, but it has also been liberating. I want people to know that they can succeed and that we need to get rid of the stigma because it gets in the way. When I was suffering from panic attacks and depression, I thought I was the only medical student with these issues and it meant I couldn't become a doctor."

Shepard estimates that half of her patients found her on TikTok. "I always ask myself, would I be okay with my patients seeing this? My patients are younger and they like that I'm on social media. It makes them feel like they know me before they start treatment."

As we were talking, Shepard made note of the fact that having a public persona does not fit in with the "blank slate" rules of a psychodynamic psychotherapy.

She had me wondering how those rules might have been constructed if the internet and social media had existed when psychoanalysis was just developing. Perhaps we'd all be clicking "follow" on Sigmund Freud's TikTok account.

Dinah Miller, MD, is co-author of Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care. She has a private practice and is assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, both in Baltimore.

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