TikTok is triggering a rise in spiritual psychosis among gen Z

By Phoebe Snedker

Published Sep 16, 2023 at 08:44 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

It’s safe to say that the TikTok algorithm seems to know us almost better than we know ourselves. Going through a breakup? There’s definitely a sound for that. You liked a dark joke about your mental health because it’s so #relatable? Sure, here’s ten more. Are you wondering if that person still has feelings for you? Well, just like, comment, and use *this sound*, and they will message you tonight, confessing their undying love. Sound familiar?

At first glance, these posts look pretty harmless, right? Breakups and crushes are universal experiences, after all. But where does manifestation end, and obsessive delusion begin?

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The term ‘spiritual psychosis’ has been making rounds on social media in recent months due to the profound impact the recurrence of these TikTok videos has had on users’ mental health. Posts that maintain to guarantee financial aid by just ‘claiming’ the positive vibes, give vague but relatable messages about someone being “the one” for you, and other similar concepts can become incredibly problematic when consumed by individuals already in fragile and paranoid states of mind.

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These clips tend to be insistent on numbers and patterns, and play massively on broad insecurities in order to harvest likes, shares, and optimise their reach under the guise of ‘spiritual guidance’ and ‘messages’.

Users have begun to speak up about their own experiences with this. One user shared that their interactions with “shadow people” (which they believed to be a spiritual breakthrough) was actually the result of their mental illness not being medicated. Another shared that, looking back on her old TikTok videos, she now recognises that what she believed to be her journey burrowing deeper into the “spirituality rabbit hole” were actually clear signs that she was experiencing psychosis.

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While this user still practises spirituality she emphasises in her video’s caption the importance of finding healthy boundaries. “Find a balance between being on earth as a human being while still understanding that you are a cosmic being. It doesn’t have to be your entire personality. But hey, we’re always learning and evolving,” she writes.

To be clear, the emergence of spiritual psychosis is by no means a criticism of spirituality itself, but rather an issue resulting from the plethora of misinformation and exploitation which plagues TikTok under the guise of guidance. So, how can we differentiate exploitative content from genuine spiritual experiences? What are the differences between spiritual awakenings and spiritual psychosis? And how has the algorithm on social media platforms—namely, TikTok—influenced the influx of paranoia and misinformation surrounding spiritual beliefs?

What is spiritual psychosis?

Spiritual psychosis, as defined by professional numerologist and licensed therapist Johanna Aúgusta, is “a state where an individual becomes so deeply immersed in their spiritual beliefs that they begin to lose touch with reality. This might manifest as hallucinations, delusions, or irrational beliefs that are often rooted in spiritual or metaphysical concepts.”

Aúgusta emphasises that, while it is crucial to differentiate between authentic spiritual experiences and conditions that may require medical intervention (such as manic or psychotic episodes), the term ‘spiritual psychosis’ may also be problematic in that it can further diminish or invalidate genuine spiritual experiences.

She shares: “Many cultures and traditions have deep spiritual rituals and beliefs that might be misunderstood or labelled as ‘psychotic’ by outsiders.”

Author, spiritual teacher and founder of The Cosmic Co Betty Andrews echoes this view, stating that “spirituality, at its core, seeks to uplift individuals from the societal pressures that aim to make them feel small or inadequate,” therefore making it more important than ever for individuals to “stay grounded in the true essence of spiritual practices and seek genuine empowerment.”

This sense of self-empowerment is skewed when it comes to TikTok’s take on spirituality. Manifestation trends tend to play on insecurity and low self-esteem as opposed to actual empowerment. Videos may promise “a skinny body” merely through writing over and over “I want to be skinny,” and listing the parts of your body you are insecure about on a daily basis until you essentially speak it into existence.

All this truly achieves, though, is an obsessive and warped perception of one’s self-image. Nevertheless, the emphasis on manifestation and *positive vibes* continues to deceive young and impressionable users.

When it comes to the algorithm, the more you engage with a topic, the more similar content you will get served. For cute cat videos or niche interests, this is ideal, but when it comes to insecurity and paranoia, it soon becomes problematic. This concept essentially forms an echo chamber, where ideals are not challenged and are rather catered to one’s way of thinking, meaning thoughts can soon become indistinguishable from fact.

Aúgusta expands on this issue, explaining that “for someone already dealing with mental health issues, this can be a triggering experience, further entrenching them in negative thought patterns or beliefs.” A plethora of content encouraging self-destructive ideals under the guise of a higher power really just adds fuel to the fire, until one finds themselves in a full-blown episode.

Dr. Hana Patel explains that this can be incredibly harmful because often, a person will be so conflicted that they will not actually recognise that they are experiencing an episode. The expert noted that individuals may interpret auditory hallucinations as messages from God, saints, or spiritual beings, and visual hallucinations as visions that have been revealed to them for a specific purpose. Such beliefs can be detrimental to a person’s ability to seek help or keep themselves safe.

How can a genuine spiritual experience be distinguished from an episode of mental illness, then? Aúgusta differentiates these experiences well, explaining that “spiritual awakenings often involve a profound realisation or shift in consciousness.” She emphasised that they are often rooted in transformative, positive experiences that lead to personal growth. Spiritual psychosis, on the other hand, is “characterised by a loss of touch with reality and can be distressing for the individual.”

She goes on to share the following tips for practising spirituality safely:

– Staying grounded: Regularly check in with yourself and ensure you’re balancing spiritual practices with everyday responsibilities.
– Seeking an established community: Engage with like-minded individuals who can offer support and perspective.
– Educating yourself: Understand the practices you’re engaging in and their potential effects.
– Listening to your intuition: If something feels off or too intense, it’s okay to step back and reassess.

With psychosis already being shrouded in stigma, individuals may fail to recognise the severity of their mental state as their behaviour and demeanour may not correlate with stereotypes of what a psychotic episode ‘looks like’. As the mental health crisis continues to rage on, it is more important than ever to ensure that young people are aware of what constitutes delusional and obsessive thought patterns, can recognise when someone needs help, and are able to distinguish genuine spiritual guidance from exploitation on social media.

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