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Is it possible that your child is being encouraged to fake a mental health illness because of YouTube celebrities? It is no secret that today’s children and teens practically live their lives through the internet. Social media platforms and entertainment sites like YouTube are where our kids go to seek out information, make friends, and build their budding identities. One aspect that makes these sites so attractive is that they provide a space for kids and teens to experiment with their identities by trying on different personas in accordance with what is trending online. This phenomenon gives the content creators of platforms like YouTube enormous influence over what our kids see as socially desirable traits and behaviors. The reality is that these content creators are some of our kids’ biggest role models and some of the biggest content creators on YouTube are featuring videos about their mental health disorders.

So, what is trending online?

Mental health issues and disorders are far less stigmatizing among today’s children and teens than they were in previous generations. This is due to increased awareness, social progressiveness, and a cultural shift that embraces individualism. In other words, being different is now something to be celebrated rather than something to be avoided at all costs.

As a result, popularity today looks a lot different than it used to. Cheerleaders and football jocks are no longer the end-all-be-all of popularity and coolness. For our kids, to be seen as fundamentally different from everyone else or misunderstood by their peers is to be seen as unique and uniqueness is the ultimate attention attracter. Oddly enough, teens today must stand out to fit in. This trend can be seen online by the enormous popularity of YouTube channels that feature content related to mental health disorders.

YouTubers Are Sensationalizing Mental Illness for Views

It is inappropriate for an unqualified person to make judgment calls regarding the validity of someone’s mental health diagnosis. Exercising informed and critical thinking when evaluating claims made by people online is important. Especially, when it is your child who is being exposed to these claims.

Content creators on YouTube get paid to make videos that attract attention from viewers. One way these content creators ensure that their videos are viewed out of thousands of others is to make them as sensational as possible. Frequently, truth is secondary to entertainment which is incredibly dangerous in this context because the implications of serious mental health disorders are far too significant to be trivialized.[1] Currently, content creators who purport to have multiple personality disorders (also referred to as dissociative identity disorder or DID) are skyrocketing as YouTube channel celebrities.

What Is multiple personality disorder?

Multiple personality disorder is a type of dissociative disorder characterized by the presence of multiple personalities or identities that coexist within one person’s mind. The personalities are distinct, completely separate from, and unaware of one another. Each personality has its own identity, complete life history, personal traits, preferences, attitudes, etc., and exerts control over the individual at different times.

The cause of this disorder is usually related to severe trauma and can be seen as a coping mechanism that protects a person from facing painful memories. The original personality is called the host and is often the most dominant identity. Additional identities are called alters. People with DID switch between personalities, with the current personality taking control over the body (referred to as “fronting”) and thus shielding the person from distressful or alarming situations.[2]

Multiple personality disorder is an incredibly rare diagnosis affecting only .01 to 1% of the population.[3] Additionally, there is considerable debate among psychologists as to whether or not the disorder truly exists.[4] Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the disorder being broadcast by YouTubers who claim to have it.

Who Are These DID Content Creators?

Some of the most popular YouTube channels whose creators purport to have multiple personality disorder include MultiplicityAndMe, The Entropy system, Fragmented Psyche, Trisha Paytas, and DissociaDID. Each of these channels is enormously popular with DissociaDID having over 1.9 million subscribers.

Thes e content creators capitalize on the mystery surrounding the disorder and typically play the role of educating their viewers. Each of these channels has videos with clickbait-worthy titles such as “Switching Caught on Camera” and “Meet the Alters.” These content creators have branded themselves as leaders of the DID community and have created a culture of exclusivity.

Us Vs. Them

For kids who may have difficulties making friends, belonging to this kind of exclusive community is very attractive. As I mentioned earlier, kids today have to stand out to fit in. Belonging to such an exclusive group allows them to feel unique while also being accepted by others. The comments sections under these videos are filled with DID-related memes, inside jokes, and special insight-fueled communication that fosters an “us versus them” mentality.

The Dangers of The Mental Illness Trend on YouTube

While having a mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, the act of faking a mental illness or claiming to have one when one doesn’t is dangerous. First and foremost, living with a dissociative disorder such as DID is not as glamourous as it is portrayed to be by these YouTube content creators. It is distressing, impairing, and often overwhelming with far-reaching implications across a variety of aspects of a person’s life. Here are some dangers:

  • Kids who claim to have the disorder as a means of making friends online can ultimately end up isolating themselves from others in real life even further.
  • People who fake a mental disorder can become convinced that they genuinely do have the disorder.[5]
  • People who claim to have a mental health disorder that they really do not have may end up taking away valuable resources that people with true diagnoses desperately need.

What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

Parental oversight regarding their kids’ exposure to content online is the most important thing. One way to do this is by monitoring your kid’s online activity such as the sites they visit, the content they feature, and how much time they spend online. Thankfully, Dr. B has a variety of useful strategies designed to help families navigate the various pitfalls of internet exposure and prevent digital injury.

  • The GKIS Social Media Readiness Training is a valuable tool that teaches teens about the inherent risks of social media and ways to be prepared when encountering them.
  • The Screen Safety Toolkit is a family-tested, outcome-based resource guide with our best recommendations, how-to information, and links to our favorite easy-to-onboard parental control systems.
  • The GKIS Connected Family Course will provide parents and families with tips for creating a safe screen home environment through fun parenting techniques that are designed to guide sensible screen management.
  • The GKIS App provides parenting and family coaching information, support, and other valuable information such as weekly blog articles.

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Mackenzie Morrow for researching the risk of digital injury to kids who are exposed to sensationalized mental health content on YouTube and co-authoring this article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
GetKidsInternetSafe.com

Works Cited

[1] Mayo Clinic. (2019). Factitious disorder. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/factitious-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20356028

[2] Waugaman, R. M., & Korn, M. (2012). Review of Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder: A relational approach. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 60(3), 626–631. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1177/0003065112447105

[3] Brand, B. L., Sar, V., Stavropoulos, P., Krüger, C., Korzekwa, M., Martínez-Taboas, A., & Middleton, W. (2016). Separating fact from fiction: An empirical examination of six myths about Dissociative Identity Disorder. Harvard review of psychiatry24(4), 257–270. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000100

[4] Dorahy, M. J., Brand, B. L., Sar, V., Krüger, C., Stavropoulos, P., Martínez-Taboas, A., Lewis-Fernández, R., & Middleton, W. (2014). Dissociative identity disorder: An empirical overview. The Australian and New Zealand journal of psychiatry48(5), 402–417. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867414527523

[5] Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., & Pieters, M. (2011). The residual effect of feigning: how intentional faking may evolve into a less conscious form of symptom reporting. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology33(1), 131–139

Photos Credits

Photo by Elisa Ventur (https://unsplash.com/photos/bmJAXAz6ads)

Photo by Varvara Grabova (https://unsplash.com/photos/tRVKb5sGBBs)

Photo by May (https://unsplash.com/photos/juT5ymUDYkA)

Photo by Dollar Gill (https://unsplash.com/photos/ezpQ4EK1Z38)

Mackenzie Morrow
Mackenzie Morrow
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