woman with 'mental health filter' and caption 'why would they make a mental health filter'


Why a TikTok filter telling people what mental health diagnosis they look like bolsters stigmas

A TikTok effect cannot diagnose users with a mental health disorder, but it also shouldn’t imply that mental health diagnoses have a specific “look.”


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Jan 10, 2024   Updated on Jan 10, 2024, 5:09 pm CST

In each edition of web_crawlr we have exclusive original content every day. On Tuesdays our IRL Reporter Tricia Crimmins breaks down the trends on the popular app that will make you cringe in her “Problematic on TikTok” column.  If you want to read columns like this before everyone else, subscribe to web_crawlr to get your daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

Happy New Year, “Problematic on TikTok” readers! Even though you might have taken some time off over the winter holidays, TikTok creators didn’t take a break from participating in harmful trends on the app.

In December, TikTok platformed—and then seemingly deleted—a filter that purports to tell users which mental health or neurological disorder they “look” like. When used, the effect appears above TikTokers’ faces as a blue rectangle. Its starting screen says “My Face Look Like I’m Having,” and then the filter cycles through the names of different disorders like schizophrenia, depression, dementia, insomnia, eating disorders, and more. 

Many TikTokers have made videos saying that the filter is ridiculous and testing it out. 

“WHY WOULD THEY MAKE A MENTAL HEALTH FILTER,” one TikToker, who received “panic disorder” from the effect, wrote. 

“It’s so inappropriate that TikTok would make a filter guessing people’s mental health disorder just based on their face,” said another, who also was told by the effect that he looked like he has panic disorder.

Why it matters

A TikTok effect cannot diagnose users with a mental health disorder, but it also shouldn’t imply that mental health diagnoses have a specific “look.” In fact, the idea that people who have depression, schizophrenia, or other mental health diagnoses look a certain way bolsters stigma and stereotypes.

And while talking about and normalizing the reality that many people have mental health disorders combats stigma around these types of issues, representation of mental health diagnoses is something that should be handled with care—not incorporated into a TikTok filter created in jest.

What’s worse, commenters on videos using the filter are making insensitive remarks and jokes about many of the mental health diagnoses mentioned, thus multiplying the harm the filter has done.

Luckily, TikTok seems to have caught on that a filter that connects mental health conditions to how people look is a terrible idea that could have serious consequences. Though videos that use the effect, many of which were posted in December 2023, are still available on TikTok, users can’t create any new content with the filter.

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*First Published: Jan 10, 2024, 6:00 am CST