When Self-Diagnosis Becomes Necessary

By: Janelle Lawrence


Social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, give the individual user the ability to create a bio for themselves. Within this space, a person can write a number of things. An astrological sign accompanied with the matching emoji, a quote that can be found in 100 fonts on Pinterest, and song lyrics are among the most common things that are written. However, sometimes along with these frequent lines, is a list of the individual's mental illness and the words “self-diagnosed” following behind. What is Self-diagnosing? Why is it so recurrent? What are the negative effects beyond just misdiagnosis’? And how, if only as final resort, can self-diagnosing be done in a healthy way?

Self-diagnosing is the act of identifying an illness by oneself. It is usually performed without the examination and confirmation from a trained professional. We have all self-diagnosed at least once in our lives. When you felt a sudden pain on the left side of your head, and chalk it up to a migraine, you self-diagnosed. When you feel yourself getting dizzy and blame it on being low in iron, you’ve self-diagnosed. The act of self-diagnosing is a common formality for physical illnesses, but people are aware of the dangers that come with self-diagnosing physical sickness. What is often ignored are the risks that come with self-diagnosing mental illnesses.

Self-diagnosing has become common in today’s western society. This is due to the belief that having a label is necessary. Having a label means many things; the main appeal is that it is a way to identify yourself. There is no harm in seeking a label for yourself, in fact, it can be beneficial when it is positive. However, when your label is a misdiagnosis caused by self-diagnosis, that is when it becomes an issue.

            Some of the dangers that come with self-diagnosing mental illnesses, besides just misdiagnosis, are:

  • Ignoring other symptoms of the illness due to it not fitting with what you may feel is affecting you (dismissing your lack of appetite because it isn’t a symptom regularly associated with anxiety)
  • Self-medicating incorrectly (taking drugs or alcohol to ‘numb’ yourself)
  • Not seeking professional help because you feel that because you’ve figured it out you’ll be okay

Self-diagnosis should be used as only a last resort and should be done with careful consideration and research. To start off, write down all of your symptoms. Break down this list of symptoms into three categories:

  • Affects me greatly/constantly
  • Does not affect me greatly/as often
  • Affected me once/can manage this

If you can, try and record when you believe these symptoms began and what may have prompted them. Now, you can begin your research. Try referencing books along with the internet (A Very Short Introduction is a great book series by Oxford that breaks down and explains anxiety and depression very well). If you prefer sticking to the internet, try steering away from sites that don’t have information that is verified by your country's mental health association. Among all other things, seriously consider getting professional help also, just to verify or correct your conclusion. Always keep in mind that self-diagnosing should not be seen as trendy or cool. Self-diagnosis should only be used as a last resort.  

Image credit: http://www.telkombusinessblog.co.za/?p=718

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