Opinion: Self diagnosis of medical conditions can be problematic and even dangerous


Isa Quilter

Self-diagnosis of mental illness is not just problematic, but it can be actually harmful.

Elizabeth Atanosian, Staff Writer

Often, people will Google a symptom or medical sign and try to figure out if they have a condition. According to Highland Springs Specialty Clinic, this process of trying to identify a medical condition on one’s own is called self diagnosis.
Most of the time, a self diagnosis is wrong and can lead people down the wrong path for treatment, which is why it is highly frowned upon.
There are currently more than 200 recognized forms of mental illness, ranging anywhere from depression to anxiety disorders and schizophrenia to PTSD.
When one turns to the internet for answers, they may head down a path that worsens their symptoms and overall quality of life.
Not only is self diagnosing bad, but it can also be incredibly dangerous. If a person jumps to conclusions about a condition they might be suffering from, they may begin the wrong treatment for their condition.
Many people will mistake common symptoms such as headaches, nausea and difficulty sleeping for severe mental or physical illnesses.
In some cases, self diagnosis can even be life-threatening. Brain tumors can cause changes in personality, and even depression or psychosis. If someone self diagnoses a panic disorder, it may cause them to miss the diagnosis of dangerous heart or thyroid issues.
When self diagnosing, a person may also miss something that a medical health professional will pick up on. In some cases, they may feel as if they are crippled by anxiety. However, the anxiety disorder could be covering up a major depressive disorder, as around two-thirds of those who are diagnosed with anxiety also have depression.
On the other hand, someone may believe that they have multiple conditions, while they only have one illness. For example, those with depression can often exhibit symptoms such as inattention and lack of sleep. They may believe they have major depression, ADHD and a sleep disorder, when in reality, depression can cause all three symptoms.
When wrongfully self diagnosing symptoms and attempting to treat those symptoms through over the counter medications, changes in diet and through other methods, once could end up complicating and possibly worsening their true condition.
Not only are people seeking information on mental health conditions from the internet, they are also searching through social media, which appears to be doing more harm than good.
According to Banner Health, there has been an unusual spike in mental health cases in hospitals and behavioral health facilities throughout the country which appears to correlate with the increase of time at home and on social media apps, including TikTok.
Dr. Adelayo, a psychiatrist in Arizona affiliated with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, noticed an increase of verbal and physical tics in teenage girls.
She stated that these girls didn’t have Tourette’s, but they weren’t faking the condition either. It was found that they had a functional movement disorder that resulted from stress and possibly an underlying depression or anxiety that could have not been properly diagnosed.
It is important for parents to listen to their child if they come to them with concerns of a mental health condition. It is necessary to talk to them about their symptoms and experiences in order to connect them to a mental health professional who can provide help.
Continuing on with the issues among social media, McGovern Medical School agrees that the increasing trend of self diagnosing on social media platforms, specifically on TikTok, can be dangerous.
While self diagnosing can be considered a step in the right direction of acknowledging a possible condition and getting help, it is extremely important that individuals don’t stop there. They need to seek help from a professional who has an extensive knowledge of mental health conditions, along with a large amount of experience.
As the world has spent a large time in isolation, people have become much more focused on their thoughts and behaviors, which has brought forward underlying depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation, which makes seeking professional help incredibly crucial.
On the other hand, a good thing that has come from the increase in attention given to mental health on social media is that awareness is being brought to life. Mental health is being normalized and many people that may be realizing things about themselves are able to reach out and gain information if necessary.
According to the White Swan Foundation, symptoms of mental illness are not as cut and dry as illnesses such as the flu or strep. They can appear in a cluster and may have small tells that only a trained mental health expert can pick up on and diagnose.
Not only can self diagnosing be dangerous because of false diagnoses, but it can lead to the minimizing of mental illness as well.
When trivializing mental illnesses such as OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and PTSD, those who actually suffer from them can be offended or hurt. Especially when people assume they have an illness or claim to.
It is becoming more common in schools and online for teenagers to make comments and jokes about mental illnesses.
Although no harm is usually meant by these comments, jokes about suicide over small or minor inconvininces can trigger or set off those who may have attempted suicide, or have suicidal ideations.
Even though not all comments made will necessarily trigger another person, someone who doesn’t have a mental illness, joking about having one can make someone who is actually diagnosed feel as if their feelings aren’t valid, making them question their situation.
It is okay for a person who has a genuine concern for their mental health to reach out and bring their concerns forward, but using severe mental health conditions and generalizing them to fit small situations can be immensely offensive to those who truly suffer.
For example, if someone claims to have OCD because they like their space to be clean and organized, it makes the term OCD much more trivial. The same goes for claiming to have depression or anxiety because a certain situation upset a person or made them nervous.
Those who have to cope with these illnesses, especially with severe cases, may be unable to go to school, work, or get up in the mornings. They may struggle and may be incapable of performing other basic everyday tasks such as showering, brushing their teeth or hair, eating, or leaving their home.
When it comes to mental illnesses, there is a strong lack of understanding. While there is the danger of overestimating symptoms, it is also necessary for everyone to be aware of when they need medical help.