Dangerous trend of self-diagnosing

“Self-diagnosis is the thought or idea of suffering from a condition without a diagnosis by a professional.” 

We all know finding information is easier than ever. Just Google your symptoms; the Internet will probably tell you what’s wrong. Many young people suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. But are they? Mental health care is unfortunately inaccessible for many, so, understandably; people seek answers by self-diagnosing. Although, before jumping to conclusions, a consultation with a professional would be necessary. 

Modern life includes using psychiatric terms and diagnoses in everyday language. You could hear someone say, “I had a bad day. I feel so depressed,” without meaning they have a depressive disorder. Awareness of mental illnesses is increasing, and people are more capable of naming and concretely recognizing their emotions. Mental health problems are normalized and are not so much of a taboo compared to previous generations. This indeed makes it easier to handle them. It’s important to know yourself and be aware of odd things. For many people, realizing your mental illness can be a relief. It can also help you become more self-accepting and start getting help or finding communities with similar problems.

Social media users share a lot of content about mental health and break unnecessary prejudices. Still, while the Internet is an excellent source of information, one should proceed with caution regarding diagnosis. Even though it’s human nature to sometimes relate to a disorder or disease, self-awareness takes years. Accurately diagnosing mental health conditions is a complex medical field. Since the 1800s, medical science has used chemistry and physics to define diseases. Even Hippocrates studied his patients’ condition by observing body liquids. So diagnostics is so much more than just how you feel inside. 

Some trends come and go in everything, also in mental health. The more people share things, the more they are talked about. This is not necessarily bad but allows trends to form in a complex field. You’ve probably heard someone call their ex or boss a narcissist after a bad breakup or getting fired. This can be caused by people seeking reasons for other people’s bad behavior or trying to understand them better. The problem is that it’s done without looking into what it means.

Social media and the Internet tend to simplify things and use many common stereotypes of illnesses that have nothing to do with diagnostics. There are multiple websites where you can describe your symptoms, and the AI tells you your diagnosis. People rely on these sites without questioning where this information comes from. This slows down getting an accurate diagnosis. There are at least 10,000 diseases in the world, and relatively many of them have symptoms that might indicate something completely different than someone else. For example, a brain tumor can cause personality changes, as well as depression or psychosis can. The American Psychosocial Association recognizes over 200 different mental disorders, many of which have overlapping symptoms, where the doctor might establish that your brain doesn’t produce enough hormones to have a fulfilled life, which has a difference in someone’s subjective experience of their illness. 

An excellent example of this is also the “Barnum effect.” Briefly explained, it’s a social experiment where participants get a personal description of their life, personality, childhood, etc. Most people who participate in this find the descriptions accurate and feel personal. The point of the experiment is that the descriptions are usually identical, vague, and general enough to apply to most people. These kinds of experiments show that even though knowledge and awareness is a positive thing, one shouldn’t base their decisions about themself on general information.

One problem with this trend is also that everyone has access to it. Not only adults are fine with their personal selves or people with skills in media literacy. Some young people are still in the process of growing and identifying themselves. People who are in the middle of personal growth. These trends are pushing these processes off the tracks. As Emma McAdams, a licensed marriage and family therapist addresses: “diagnosis is not an identity, it’s an experience, not who you are.”

Taika Soihtu

Terveyskirjasto: Yleistynyt ahdistuneisuushairio
Yle: Some ruokkii mielenterveysongelmien “itsediagnosointia”, mutta väärään tietoon on helppo haksahtaa
Highlandspringsclinic.org: dangers of self diagnoses
Pfizer: tutkimus-diagnostiikka ennen ja nyt, tasmallisen taudinmaarityksen jaljilla
McGovern Medical School: Challenge with Social Media: Self-Diagnosing Mental Health
Tpmg: Mental Health Self-Diagnosis: Helpful or Harmful?
Betterhelp: why you shouldnt self diagnose your mental health
Urevolution: is self diagnosis valid
Youtube: The Essential Lesson You Missed in Psych 101- How Self-Diagnosis Can Harm You
Wikipedia: Barnum effect
Youtube: TherapyinaNutshell

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