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The bizarre new TikTok trend of people faking mental disorders to seem “quirky”

The more we use social media, the more we seem to become embroiled in an endless pursuit for validation and attention from other members of our species. One such platform where this is readily apparent is TikTok. Though this phenomenon plaguing society today generally manifests in harmless trends like dances or lip-synching, one startling and bizarre trend that has taken the app by storm is the surge of people pretending to have various mental disorders, disabilities or illnesses for attention. The most popular of these disorders at the moment appear to be Tourette’s Syndrome, Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID).

The dawn of the internet has made it a quick and easy process to get all kinds of information in a flash. This has sadly been used to the advantage of many a faker who needs to have a basic ‘understanding’ of what they’re faking to thus gain the instant sympathy, companionship and revery of others. Because of this, a lot of these fakers only have a one-dimensional sense of these disorders and often frame them as being a lot more fun or cute than they really are. A lot of these people totally forget how debilitating and unbearable these conditions can be, as it in fact a disorder and not a quirky personality trait.

One of the apps most faked conditions, Tourette’s syndrome, is a neurological disorder that produces involuntary movements and vocalisations known as tics. Depending on the severity of the disorder, regular everyday tasks and interactions can be extremely difficult for the person but to fakers, the ‘involuntary’ swearing or actions are meant to come off as ‘endearing’ or ‘funny’, both enjoyable for the viewer and the person with Tourette’s.

Another widely faked disorder, DID is defined by multiple (two or more) distinct personalities which control a person’s behaviour at different times. There is a core identity and then the alternative personalities or alters. DID is still not a well-understood disorder, is hard to diagnose and is thought to be exceptionally rare with only 1 or 2% of the population being diagnosed but somehow hundreds of young TikTok users are now claiming to have DID without even being formally diagnosed.

DID comes from a person having extreme enough trauma that their personality and identity fragments in order to keep these traumatic memories safely tucked away from them. Switching between alters often prompts amnesia, dissociation and other incapacitating effects which affect a person’s sense of self and reality. Fakers, on the other hand, portray the image that it is like having a revolving cast of characters in your head which they are perfectly in control of and fully aware of at all times. Unfortunately, actually having DID is not the same thing as having a myriad of funny and cool original characters, or cosplaying your favourite characters or having an alter-ego that you like to switch to when you feel like it.

The excessive glamourisation of these disorders and illnesses is harmful to these communities and further increases misconceptions, misinformation and stigma around them. The overwhelming influx of fakers also drowns out the voices of people who genuinely have been diagnosed with these disorders and want to speak their truth on it. It also makes it harder for people to trust anyone who claims to have any of these disorders since so many are being called out and debunked.

I truly do hope that these people can see the error in their ways, come out and admit it and get the help they deserve should this speak to a larger issue within themselves. While they might not have the proclaimed disorder of their liking/choosing, there definitely has to be something else going awry in their personal life to push them to fake serious disorders to get attention online. It is my sincere hope that this trend will die out soon and that we can safely go back to seeing more passable content on TikTok in the near future.

Lungile Humphrey is a Graduate-to-be at the University of Cape Town, studying Anthropology and Archaeology. She loves reading, writing, movies, music and video games among many other things. She also happens to despise soup, minions and drinking cold water but is otherwise a relatively reasonable person.