Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Louise Barry 

BSc [Hons] Applied Psychology

Hi! My name is Louise and I have just completed the Applied Psychology course. I am particularly passionate about Mental Health in the Digital Age and am interested in Positive Therapeutic Interventions, like Art Therapy. I intend to volunteer this year to gain practical experience and refine my interests, before pursuing my Master's Studies.

Reflexive Thematic Analysis of User Engagement with Mental Health Influencers on TikTok

‘Mental Health Influencers’ are widely popular on Social Media. Their content offers educational potential, representing a newfound affordance of Social Media platforms concerning Mental Health. However, little is known about user engagement in this context. As such, my project addressed this gap through Reflexive Thematic Analysis of 2,856 user comments across three of the most popular Mental Health Influencer Accounts on TikTok, chosen for their broad audience range and scope. Four themes were generated in response to the research questions, reflecting how TikTok users perceive and interact with Mental Health Influencers' content. The findings have practical and ethical implications for practicing Mental Health Influencers.
This work holds merit as it is amongst the first to investigate the impact of Mental Health Influencers, offering insight into the nuance of user engagement within this space. However, this work is constrained by its data collection method, incomplete demographic information of users, and utilisation of a limited sample of Mental Health Influencer accounts.

Project Objectives

This work aimed to explore how TikTok users interpret and respond to content produced by Mental Health Influencers, and to identify the benefits associated with their engagment within this space.

Given the limited previous research on this topic, the research aims were addressed through an exploratory qualitative approach.

Project Outcomes

It was found that users positively appraise Mental Health Influencers' content, regarding them as credible sources of Mental Health information. However, many users appeared to overestimate their credibility and harbour inflated perceptions of their personal and professional attributes. Furthermore, many users appeared to engage in parasocial therapeutic relationships within this space.
Benefits of user engagement with Mental Health Influencers' content pertain to coping and validation of personal struggles. Interestingly, trust in Mental Health Influencers' expertise was heightened following instances of self-disclosure on their behalf. However, this did not effect the occurance of parasocial therapeutic relationships.

Such elevated trust and parasocial bonds exhibited by users in this space signal the need for specialised ethical guidelines for Mental Health Influencers. Additionally, there is a need for a clearer delineation of this role. Providing such could serve as a step towards providing users with Mental Health-related benefits distinct from those traditionally afforded on Social Media.