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How TikTok Became a Safe Space During Lockdown For Destigmatizing Mental Health

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For Melissa Shepard, MD, a psychiatrist and therapist with over one million followers on TikTok, finding her groove on the app came naturally during the pandemic once she realized there was “such a big need” for mental health support in these creative, digestible formats. “The education piece is really important and is the primary goal of me being on TikTok,” she told POPSUGAR. “But another part of it is that mental healthcare is kind of scary, so part of the reason I post so many stupid videos is because I want people to know that we are real humans, too. Part of the goal is reaching that audience who would be intimidated by going in to see another mental health professional so that they can get an introduction to who we are and what we do in the comfort of their own home, in a less threatening environment.”

One scroll through Dr. Shepard’s profile and you can see exactly what she’s talking about. You’re not going to find a Dr. Melfi session à la Sopranos on TikTok. You’re going to find someone who tells their followers about how lit her Twinkie-flavored coffee was, someone who can help others identify what it is they’re feeling in such an interesting, relatable way, and someone who genuinely cares about the content they’re putting out for the sole purpose of helping others.

“It’s really fulfilling when people say they didn’t know therapists and therapy could be so energizing and fun,” said Shani Tran, a therapist with over 213K followers on the app. “TikTok brings me so much joy. I have always been a creator, and TikTok allows me to do that. I can dance, act, and educate people on mental health.” And technology has taught us that education comes in so many forms. For Tran, that means sharing content like explaining anxious attachment styles with an edited version of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah. It’s compelling, it’s creative, and it allows someone to understand their own behaviors in less than a minute.

It’s fascinating because unless these TikTok therapists like Dr. Shepard or Tran are replying to a specific comment on their video and addressing someone directly, the advice they’re giving to millions of people is general, yet it still feels so personal when they’re touching upon shared experiences. “Certainly you don’t want to get into giving specific people specific advice, because the information you put out there is not going to work for everybody,” Dr. Shepard said. “I try to be kind of vague, and hopefully people will take what they find helpful and leave the rest.” Every follower is different, and these aren’t her patients, but Dr. Shepard does cater to her audience: “I want them to feel like they can ask me whatever they need.”

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