Charli and Dixie D'Amelio put mental health on display like never before. What experts say about their raw reality show.

·9-min read
Dixie and Charli D'Amelio shed a light on mental health issues stemming from social media. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dixie and Charli D'Amelio shed a light on mental health issues stemming from social media. (Photo: Getty Images)

TikTok's most famous sisters, Charli and Dixie D'Amelio, went from typical Connecticut teenagers to Los Angeles-based celebrities in record time. Despite the fact that many might think they're living the dream, the transition from relative anonymity to global phenomenons hasn't been easy and the young women, along with their parents Marc and Heidi D'Amelio, are opening up about the true toll that internet fame has taken on their mental health with their new reality television show.

"Tea pages and negative comments and checking who's talking about me every day has a big part of my anxiety," Dixie, 20, shared in an episode of the premiere season of The D'Amelio Show on Hulu. "I do try to hide those feelings by putting out a strong face. But I do get very upset."

The highly anticipated series was released on the streaming service on Sept. 3 and quickly surpassed people's expectations of how well viewers would get to know the newly famous family. For most, the show's unfiltered look into the negativity that both Charli, 17, and Dixie face and the ways in which their mental health has suffered as a result was shocking. However, as research comes out about the inherent danger of social media apps — most recently surrounding the photo-sharing platform Instagram — experts are intent on bringing more awareness to the repercussions of using them.

"Social media has many benefits for adolescents like a space to share their story, to express themselves, to advocate for change, to connect, to find friends. It can also have a negative impact on adolescents. Recent research shows that spending more than three hours a day on social media may result in an increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Social media can also impact adolescents' sleep and body image," Lindsay Fleming, a licensed therapist based in Illinois, tells Yahoo Life.

Fleming has worked to create a more effective dialogue about mental health on TikTok in particular as she grows her own platform that focuses on conversations that teens might be having about anxiety, depression and related issues. What's highlighted on The D'Amelio Show has more to do with the way that negative comments on social media trigger those responses.

"Many teens report online bullying as a major issue in the social media world. When you have a million followers and more than a million people commenting on everything you do it can have an immense impact on your mental health," Fleming explains. "When speaking specifically of adolescent teenager girls with millions of followers the scrutiny and standard of perfection is even higher. Teenagers are not only more impulsive, they are also trying to figure out their identity and who they are."

While Charli and Dixie, in addition to numerous other online creators, have spoken about the criticism that they face on a daily basis, people have praised the Hulu reality show for illustrating their emotional reactions in a more unfiltered and authentic way. The show even gives a glimpse into one of Dixie's panic attacks triggered by hate that she received after being photographed while walking out of a workout.

"Everyone just picks apart every single thing I say and do and the way I look. I went to the gym... It sucks." Dixie is heard saying through gasps of air as tears stream down her face. "I know it's just like people's opinion but it hurts so much."

When reflecting on the moments of panic and upset, Dixie later said that it's difficult to get past feeling like "I wanna die."

Fleming explains that this reaction isn't unordinary, as the overwhelming negativity and hate are interpreted by the brain as emotional danger. "It is going to go into protection mode where our emotional part of our brain function goes up and our logic, problem-solving and emotional regulation goes down," Fleming says. "Our body can become overwhelmed and we can begin having a panic attack where we literally feel like we are dying or our world is ending. With time and validation, like her parents provided her, our emotions will go back to baseline but the trauma of what put our body into that response can continue to impact us."

And while the D'Amelios are facing hate at a rapid pace and volume, they aren't alone in experiencing such a traumatic response to the negativity.

Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert and licensed educational psychologist, tells Yahoo Life that she often suggests that teens block bullies, change their contact information and practice digital detoxes — something that Charli has done — in order to create boundaries that better mental health. In the case of the public-facing D'Amelios, however, getting additional support is the best option.

"This is bigger than what we know what to do as parents," the girls' mother Heidi said on the show. "I'm not going to try to fix my car because I don't know how. I'm going to take it to a professional. And I feel like the same about therapy or mental health."

The inclusion of therapy in the show is arguably the most effective piece, as Fleming shares her hopes that teens will see Charli attending therapy and know that it is OK to seek help themselves.

Charli first spoke about going to therapy when she appeared on Avani Gregg's Facebook Watch show Here for It where the two friends discussed cyberbullying. "I had been to therapy before and I only went because she gave me fruit snacks and I hated it, so I stopped going. And then I started up again probably about a month ago and the only reason that it's actually doing anything is because I'm not holding back and I'm saying everything that I've been wanting to say since I was 7 years old," Charli said in December 2020. "It's genuinely really awesome because even though sometimes you might feel alone, you have someone to really talk to."

In an episode of the Hulu series, Charli shared a particular experience where she went to a therapist who told her that his daughter is a big fan. "I appreciate your daughter. But she's not going to help a chemical imbalance in my brain," Charli said during her confessional. And while she admitted to having "struggled" to find a therapist that worked for her, the 17-year-old ultimately spoke to the importance of going to therapy. "It was really, really helpful."

Fleming says that Charli's ability to share her negative experience with therapy on the show also taught an important lesson.

"If therapy doesn't feel safe it is important to advocate for yourself and stop attending therapy with that specific therapist. What I love that Charli did in the show is explain her negative experience and continue to discuss how important and helpful therapy can be," Fleming says. "This reminds me we need to continue to educate the public on what therapy should and should not feel like, especially teens."

While Hulu didn't set out to make a show with a focus on mental health, producers embraced the opportunity to share the D'Amelio family's journey as authentically as they could.

"We knew that by sharing the truth of what they were going through, we could help start a much-needed conversation. Charli and Dixie, as well as their parents Marc and Heidi, knew it was a risk to share such a vulnerable time in their lives, but also knew other kids and teens were having similar struggles," Sara Reddy, showrunner for The D'Amelio Show, tells Yahoo Life. "We took our role in sharing their story very seriously, and not only had many conversations with the family, but also worked with NAMI and other health care professionals to make sure we offered resources, and that we were telling the story in a responsible way. But it was also a deeply personal story for the D'Amelio family, and I am grateful that they trusted us enough to tell their story so that we could create opportunities to have important conversations."

And although it's certainly a start, Fleming acknowledges that there's more work to be done to bring awareness to online toxicity's effect on mental health, something that the D'Amelio sisters share so openly.

"We know anxiety and depression continues to rise in our youth and many professionals feel social media and pressure to succeed are contributing to this rise, among other things like a world that feels scary and unsafe," she says. "The optimist in me wants to say yes this show will help people be nicer to people online but as a therapist for teens and young adults and someone who has a large following on social media, I know we need more than a show. We need an entire cultural shift."

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