Why Self-Diagnosing Mental Health Conditions Can Be Dangerous
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 health 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 health and seek out resources if you feel you may have a disorder or otherwise need support. However, mental illness is incredibly complex. Without the proper training and experience, it can be incredibly difficult to make accurate mental health diagnoses. First, there are over 200 recognized forms of mental illness, including anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and sleep disorder. You may have symptoms that can signify a variety of different conditions, for instance, or 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. 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 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 in actuality you could be experiencing a very serious health condition, such as a brain tumor.
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.
How The Internet Can Benefit Your Mental Health
Diagnosing a mental health condition in yourself is typically not recommended, especially if you are using information you found on the internet 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.
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 people can receive reputable, helpful mental health care and information over the internet. You can find client reviews of TeenCounseling providers below.
“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 of 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!”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Why do I keep diagnosing myself?
When people are feeling unwell or feel they may have a mental health disorder, oftentimes the first thing they do is google their symptoms to find out what illness they may have. We often want immediate answers to why we are feeling the way we are, and the internet is seemingly a great tool for that. However, while there is often valuable information on the internet, it is not always accurate and it shouldn’t be a source of information to always rely on.
Some people may become dependent on the internet as a source of information for everything, leading to a misdiagnosis. This individual may have a form of anxiety surrounding their health called cyberchondria. This anxiety consists of excessive worry that one is or may become seriously ill and it is induced by compulsively searching health-related information online. If you or a loved one is living with health-related anxiety, a licensed professional can help.
Is it bad to say you have depression without a professional opinion?
Learning and understanding the symptoms of depression is important, but if you are only relying on the internet, that can be incredibly harmful. Many physical and mental health conditions have similar symptoms and people may misdiagnose them. This may lead to not seeking out the correct treatment which can ultimately worsen current symptoms.
If you or a loved one feel they are experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to speak to a professional to get a professional prognosis. There could be an underlying reason for experiencing these symptoms, that you otherwise may not be aware of without the help of a healthcare professional.
Why is it harmful to google all symptoms I am experiencing?
These days, we seem to google everything. The internet seems to have answers to all of our questions; however, these answers are not always accurate or credible. Many illnesses have overlapping symptoms which make it incredibly difficult to not misdiagnose without a professional. Self-diagnosing may create anxiety and worries around a condition one may not even have or someone could even wrongly determine a condition, overlooking the actual condition. Self-diagnosis can lead to seeking out incorrect treatment which can prolong healing or even worsen the condition.
Can mental illness be self diagnosed?
What are the disadvantages of diagnosing mental illness?
Is it okay to self diagnose anxiety?
Are mental health diagnoses scientifically meaningless?
What is the consequence of diagnosing a person with a psychological disorder?
Is mental health diagnosis more helpful or harmful?
Is it okay to self-diagnose ADHD?
What do you call someone who self-diagnoses themselves?
How many people self diagnose themselves with mental illness?
Why is the DSM-5 so controversial?
What is one of the biggest criticisms of the DSM?
When is self-diagnosis appropriate?
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