Why Self-diagnosing Mental Health Conditions Can Be Dangerous

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 28, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The internet can be a powerful and helpful tool, but when it comes to using it for health information, it’s usually wise to proceed with caution. According to a Pew Research Center study, 1 in 3 Americans has searched their symptoms online to try to find a diagnosis for a medical issue. While knowing more information about a certain symptom may be useful in some cases, it also has the potential to be misleading or even harmful. Read on to learn why.


Can you determine if you have a mental health disorder from the internet?

It’s generally a good idea to pay attention to your mental and behavioral health and seek out resources if you feel you may have a disorder or otherwise need support with living a healthy life. However, mental illness is incredibly complex. Without the proper training and experience, it can be incredibly difficult to identify the right diagnosis and treatment for your situation. First, there are over 200 recognized forms of mental illness, including generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. You may have symptoms, such as those of anxiety, depression, etc., that can signify a variety of different conditions. Also, you may be experiencing some symptoms you aren’t even aware of. These are just two reasons why you shouldn’t self-diagnose mental illness instead of going to a health professional for an official diagnosis. So, while online mental health information may give you a better idea of concerns you can bring up with a licensed therapist or counselor, it’s usually best to stop there and let them use their training to provide a professional diagnosis if necessary.

Why diagnosing yourself can be harmful

Attempting to self-diagnose a mental health disorder can be harmful to you. You may overlook symptoms when you self-diagnose that may signal a different mental illness than the one you believe you have pinpointed. It’s also worth noting that significant amounts of misinformation on mental illness can be found on the internet, meaning you could end up making decisions that are unhealthy or even dangerous, based on information that isn’t true. Plus, because so many mental illnesses have similar and/or broad symptoms, you may cause yourself unnecessary stress by thinking you have one illness when you have another, or potentially no illness at all. On the other hand, you may convince yourself you are healthy and your symptoms are not indicative of a larger problem when you self-diagnose when in actuality you could be experiencing a very serious health condition. 

Without a proper diagnosis, you may attempt self-treatment of your perceived mental health condition, potentially even using over-the-counter medications that are not intended to treat any kind of medical disease. For example, internet misinformation about the treatment of anxiety disorders has led some people to believe their anxiety symptoms can be relieved using drugs such as Advil and Tylenol, commonly used to treat muscle pain and other forms of inflammation. No scientific evidence exists to suggest these drugs can relieve anxiety symptoms. Such use demonstrates how when people use misinformation in self-diagnosing, bad health decisions can result. It is always better to seek a professional doctor’s diagnosis before taking medication or other actions related to your healthcare. Health professionals can give you a professional diagnosis, rather than a guess, and they can also outline a treatment plan for your future care.

The dangers of self-diagnosis can even extend to developing an entirely new mental health condition. In some cases, self-diagnoses can develop into cyberchondria, when you experience distressing or even debilitating anxiety over your health created by excessive online searches of symptoms and illnesses. 

Getty/MoMo Productions

How the internet can benefit your mental health

Diagnosing a mental health condition in yourself is typically not recommended, especially if you are using the information you found on the internet or social media to make that diagnosis. However, that doesn’t mean that the internet can’t be a useful tool in improving or supporting your mental health. Here are a few positive things you may be able to safely use it for:

  • Gathering Information To Take To A Professional. If you’re facing a mental health concern and plan to see a trained professional about it, doing your own research beforehand generally isn’t harmful if it makes you feel better or more prepared. You can become familiar with symptoms or conditions that you can then ask your provider about.
  • Learning Tips For Better Mental Health.  Taking any kind of physical or mental health advice as medical advice from someone who is not a licensed professional is typically not recommended—which includes information you may find on the internet. However, you may benefit from learning mental health tips for optimal wellness in your daily life from reputable sources like the American Psychological Association (APA)the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), or the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • Finding Support And Community.  Again, receiving medical advice of any kind from someone on the internet who is not a licensed, verified professional is usually not advisable. However, you may be able to benefit from connecting with others who are experiencing similar mental health concerns. You can exchange information regarding experiences with medication to treat conditions, for instance, and being connected to such a community can remind you that you’re not alone in the challenges you’re facing.
A teenager in a black hoodie sits on a brown leather couch in their therapists office and listens to their female therapist talk during a therapy session.
Getty/Olga Rolenko

Finally, there are ways to seek out the help of a licensed mental health professional over the Internet. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, for example, you can be matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat from the comfort of your own home. Or, if you’re between the ages of 13–18, you can try an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling, which offers the same types of services, but for teenagers. Since research suggests that online therapy can offer similar benefits to in-person therapy when provided by a certified professional, virtual counseling is one way that people can receive reputable, helpful mental health care and information over the Internet. You can find client reviews of TeenCounseling providers below.

Counselor reviews

“Just in the short time I have been speaking with her, she has given me multiple tools to make it through my issues. She was confident, calm, and receptive to my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I would highly recommend her due to the fact that she doesn't treat me like a patient. I'm treated as a friend and I can trust her with my inner thoughts. 10 out of 10”

“Courtney Maat has been a wonderful resource for my 14-year-old daughter, who has been dealing with anxiety and depression. After just a month of working together, I can see progress, and my daughter really looks forward to their weekly sessions. Could not recommend more highly!”


While the internet can be a great source of information on topics like mental health, it’s usually safer to leave the diagnosing to a licensed professional. They can use their training and experience to provide you with accurate, helpful options for how to proceed with your own mental health care.
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