We live in a world with considerable information right at our fingertips. We can find information on nearly anything, especially in the medical field, where we can find the symptoms of the most obscure diseases or learn details about treatments otherwise only provided by those with Ph.Ds.
But this information can cause its own challenges. Most of us are familiar with what was once called the “WebMD Effect,” where a person convinces themselves they have a rare disease because their symptoms match what they find online, only for it to be something like the common cold.
Mental health can be similar, though the risks are different. Depending on your symptoms, you may be able to figure out what condition you struggle with – for example, if you have panic attacks, and the symptoms match, you probably have panic disorder – but self-diagnosing carries its own unique risks, which is why it is so important to speak with a professional.
Risks of Self-Diagnosis of Mental Illness
It’s first important to realize that, while it may be loosely possible to understand your mental health challenges, it’s also possible to be wrong. Depression, for example, can be triggered by anxiety where anxiety is the primary mental health challenge, not the depression. Some conditions, like binge eating disorder, can also be misunderstood.
But even if you can generally tell what mental health challenge you have, there are other issues that make it less ideal to self-diagnose. These include:
- Meaninglessness of Labels – Labeling something “anxiety” or “depression” can be useful for insurance agencies, but for each individual it is often too broad a label to specifically describe their symptoms. Labeling yourself with that type of condition misses the wide range of symptoms and experiences people have, and potentially cause you to misunderstand parts of yourself.
- Adopting the Identity – Some people also fall into the trap of adopting a mental health challenge as an identity. They see they have “depression” and they view the rest of their behaviors as though their depression defines them. They try to understand more about themselves through the depression and through other things they read rather than truly take the time to better understand their own behaviors.
- Trying to Self-Treat – Self-diagnosis can also lead to self-treatment, which is typically not the best idea. Remember, even within specific disorders, an individual’s experience can vary considerably, and the way you address treating the disorder may be dramatically different from someone else’s if you hope to have real breakthroughs.
- Treating One But Not Others – Many people struggle with more than one condition, known as “comorbidity.” But many people stop diagnosing themselves after they’ve discovered the first condition, and try to treat it without addressing other, concurrent conditions.
In our work, we also often find that people that self-diagnose will also delay treatment, treat themselves using incorrect beliefs, or otherwise look for someone to treat them based on what they read rather than what they need.
Remember, a “condition” like anxiety or depression is just a broad name for a number of unique experiences. Symptoms may have similarities, but causes, expressions, challenges, and solutions can vary so much that a self-diagnosis doesn’t necessarily provide you with what you need to move forward.
Instead of self-diagnosing or worrying about the name of your mental health challenges, the most important thing is to recognize that you can benefit from help. Once you make that determination, give Flourish Psychology a call today.