The internet has made it much easier to look up information that previously seemed inaccessible, especially when it comes to our health. Research shows that over a third of Americans use the internet to self-diagnose. This has become increasingly common in recent years as the amount of mental health and wellness-related content on social media platforms increases. Let’s take a look at what self-diagnosis means, why it occurs, and the possible pros and cons of doing so.
What Is Self-Diagnosis?
As the name implies, self-diagnosis means identifying a medical or mental health condition in yourself. While there are many ways to do this, such as studying medical libraries, most people these days rely on a quick Google search or reading about people’s personal experiences on social media.
Whenever people self-diagnose a mental health condition, it starts with looking up a specific symptom. For instance, you may ask Google, ‘why am I sad one minute and angry the next?’ It’s possible that you’ll get search results that discuss bipolar symptoms in women. Based on these results, you may end up self-diagnosing yourself with bipolar disorder.
Why Do People Self-Diagnose?
If you look at how the rate of self-diagnosis is increasing, it begs the question, ‘why are people self-diagnosing?’ Here are a few possible reasons:
- Growing Rate of Mental Illness: Numerous studies, including figures by the World Health Organization, indicate that our mental health is worsening. Over the last decade, there has been a 13 percent rise in the number of people with mental health conditions.
- Information is Easily Accessible: Another reason is the ease with which people can get information about mental health conditions on the Internet. This is a stark contrast to a few decades ago, when medical textbooks, libraries, and professionals were the only sources.
- Provides an Explanation For Their Behaviors: When the way you act or behave is different from the people around you, it can lead to stigma. Looking up your symptoms can provide explanations for why you’re different.
Other reasons can be that you’ve been misdiagnosed in the past or don’t have the time to see a professional for a formal diagnosis.
Because you arrive at a diagnosis based on little evidence and without the use of appropriate tools, the concept of a ‘self-diagnosis’ is a misnomer. Even if you do label yourself as, say, someone with borderline personality disorder, it won’t mean that you have the condition. That being said, there are certain pros of researching your symptoms.
Helps You Describe What You’re Feeling
If you’re experiencing symptoms for the first time, it can be difficult to explain them to a medical professional. This is especially true in the case of psychological conditions, where symptoms aren’t always physical and easy to pinpoint. Finding information online can help you describe symptoms to a practitioner or therapist.
You Become Aware of Your Mental Health
It’s no secret that mental health symptoms can be disabling, regardless of whether you have a formal diagnosis. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and paranoia can impair your ability to function. Researching your symptoms helps you get a clearer picture of what you’re experiencing.
You Realize You’re Not Alone
Mental health struggles can make you feel lonely, especially if the people around you don’t experience similar symptoms. In this case, getting some information about your symptoms can help you realize that you’re not the only one who feels this way and that it’s quite common.
But despite these pros, it’s still important to see a professional to discuss what you’re feeling. Even if you don’t have a certain condition, they can still recommend strategies to alleviate your symptoms.
Medical experts and mental health practitioners advise against self-diagnosing yourself due to numerous reasons, such as a lack of accurate information and confirmation biases. Some of the cons are as follows:
Confirmation Bias and Misdiagnosis
Repeated exposure to mental health-related content on social media websites can convince people that they have a specific condition. So, when they look up information, you only focus on bits of it that support your supposed diagnosis while ignoring evidence to the contrary. As a result, you end up misdiagnosing yourself with a condition you don’t have.
You May Try Self-Medicating
A major risk of self-diagnosis, especially when you don’t have the condition, is that you try to self-medicate. This is usually done using over-the-counter medications or at-home treatments to address the problem you think you have, which could lead to side effects.
Sometimes, it’s possible for you to have some of the symptoms as a serious condition. Just because you experience some of them, it doesn’t mean that you have a disorder. Failing to realize this can lead to a lot of stress and worry that you’ll experience further symptoms.
Not Getting Adequate Care
Just as it’s possible to self-diagnose yourself with a condition you don’t have, you may fail to recognize when you do, in fact, have a condition. For instance, you’ve been spending more and more time in bed to the extent that you don’t get anything else done; you may associate it with being lazy or tired. Your condition can go undiagnosed, preventing you from seeking the help you need.
Taking Information From Unreliable Sources
Not all mental health-related information you find on the internet is fact-checked and reviewed by medical professionals. Many wellness blogs write based on opinions rather than facts. Even if bloggers or influencers do some research, they may misrepresent scientific information. This can lead users to self-diagnose based on inaccurate information or short clips that only discuss a fragment of a much bigger topic.
While there are certain benefits that come with looking up information regarding your symptoms, it should always be followed by a consultation with a mental health professional. Attempting to self-diagnose your condition can lead to problems like self-medicating, failing to get appropriate care, and relying on information from inaccurate sources.