Student advocates for mental health on TikTok

William Hornby started posting eating disorder recovery videos to TikTok and Instagram in 2020.

William Hornby, a fifth-year musical theater major at Boyer College of Music and Dance, stands at Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Broad Street. Hornby creates content about eating disorder recovery on TikTok and Instagram. | AMBER RITSON / THE TEMPLE NEWS

William Hornby first found popularity on TikTok by carving celebrities into pumpkins in October 2020. Though he planned to retire from the app when the month ended, he quickly had a change of heart. 

“I realized that, because I had some kind of a platform, I could start using it for good,” said  Hornby, a fifth year musical theater major. “So I started making videos about eating disorder recovery on TikTok.” 

In November 2020, Hornby began posting mental health and eating disorder recovery videos to TikTok and brought his content to Instagram in July 2021, using the Reels feature. His accounts have since gained popularity, and he now has more than 350,000 followers on TikTok and more than 120,000 on Instagram.

Hornby used these platforms because he had trouble finding content that related to his own struggle, and wanted to provide that outlet for others, he said. 

“It’s my job now,” Hornby said. “And I never expected social media to be my job.” 

His videos aim to support and validate his followers struggling with mental health or eating disorders, often offering advice and reminding people that they are worthy. He also strives to provide more awareness on men’s mental health because he feels there are not enough resources for men, he said. 

In addition to posting videos on social media, Hornby released “Clay,” a song about living with body dysmorphic disorder, on Sept. 24, 2021. He wanted to write a song that captured the body dysmorphic experience for individuals in a non-triggering way, he said. 

Hornby reached out to his friend Owen O’Leary, a 2021 New York University alumnus, to help write the song and collaborated via Zoom sessions to create the song. The two became friends while attending Baltimore School for the Arts, a high school in Baltimore, Maryland, together. 

O’Leary, co-writer of “Clay,” agreed to join Hornby in this project because he felt the message of the song was important, he said. 

“I like to make music that isn’t about marketability, and isn’t about what’s gonna get on the radio or be a chart topper, but more about like, ‘what’s the message we’re trying to send?’” O’Leary said. “This was a message that’s rarely talked about, so that’s why I was on board for it, 100 percent.” 

Seeing Hornby help and uplift people through his work is a testament to his many talents, he added. 

“It’s amazing that he can take all of these separate talents that he has and really guide them towards this one thing that’s so selfless,” O’Leary said. “It’s amazing that you can use all of these outlets to uplift people.” 

Hornby receives messages everyday from followers about how much his content has helped them.

Eating disorders affect at least 9 percent of the population worldwide, according to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a nonprofit that provides free, peer support services to individuals struggling with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders typically begin between ages 18 and 21, according to the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit that aims to support the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Between 10 to 20 percent of women and 4 to 10 percent of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and these rates are steadily increasing. 

Sara Frunzi discovered Hornby’s TikTok videos on her “For You Page” in December 2020 and started following him because, as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, his content resonated with her, she said. 

“They just gave me some validation of just not being alone,” said Frunzi, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. 

Frunzi has felt isolated during the pandemic and watching Hornby’s content and messaging with him about her journey encouraged her to find a therapist and dietitian, she said. The two have stayed in contact by sending each other letters and meeting in person, Frunzi said. 

Being able to connect and speak with someone who understands her struggles has been a validating experience for her, she added.  

Hornby never thought his content would receive this much attention but is happy it did. 

“It feels like I’m doing something really good,” Hornby said. “ I feel very proud of the work that I do because I know that it does help people.” 

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