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Our Senior Clinical Advisor, Dr Fiona Pienaar, explores the recent trend of young people being driven by TikTok to seek mental health support from our Shout text service at night.

Viral TikTok triples demand for Shout

On Wednesday 26 January, a user generated TikTok video posted by a young teenager encouraged people to text our Shout service, stating: “here’s the number if anyone is struggling” and adding “...mental health helplines, because no one else cares.”

The video went viral and our Shout Volunteers took more than 5,200 conversations that day, largely with children and young people seeking immediate support. This marked our busiest ever day, with daily demand increasing three-fold.

Over the following week, spontaneous TikTok videos and comments continued to drive awareness of Shout on social media, directly resulting in a sudden and sustained increase in usage of the service - particularly from younger texters and most frequently at night.

Texter characteristics and behaviours

The majority of our texters at this time were under 18 and, strikingly, 19% were aged 13 or under compared to just 6% the previous week. Every night, conversations peaked between 9pm and 11pm and continued through the night and into the morning.

An astonishing number of children and young adults sought mental health support all through the night, predominantly with depression and anxiety, while conversations concerning bullying tripled.

Social media, mental health and sleep

Children and young people have been discovering the viral social media posts and TikToks promoting Shout at night because, despite a wealth of research advising against doing so, they are taking their phones to bed.

While we don't fully understand the impact of social media on our mental health, we do know that using devices and interacting with people and social content late at night can negatively impact our sleep, which is vital for maintaining our mental health and wellbeing.

Indeed, while social media provides important ways for young people to communicate with each other, information is not always accurately described by influencers and social media users, which can leave young people feeling isolated and confused. This is especially true in the middle of the night, when nobody is around for them to talk to and their ability to manage their thoughts and emotions is further impeded by fragmented and interrupted sleep.

This then drives young people to seek support wherever they can find it at that point in time, whether that is through social media, elsewhere online or by texting Shout.

Managing device and social media usage at night

While Shout is here for every child and young person in distress, it is crucial that young people are equipped and empowered with the information, tools, support and face-to-face connections they need to manage their mental health and wellbeing.

There are several positive steps that can be taken to support family wellbeing around social media and device use, from creating family-wide agreements for using screens at night to improving access to trusted adults and reliable sources of news and mental health support.

If you are a parent or carer, read our top tips for more support on this topic.

“Thanks for texting with me. I never knew things like this existed until I actually saw a TikTok about it. Thank you again.”

Feedback from male teenage texter