The Harms of Self-diagnosis

The Harms of Self-diagnosis

The Harms of Self-diagnosis

Hippocrates wrote, “If a doctor can tell his patients about their present symptoms as well as the possible progression of those symptoms, and fill in the details they have omitted, he will increase his reputation as a medical practitioner”. The above statement focuses on a doctor’s ability to understand the symptoms and reach a diagnosis. It emphasizes the importance of diagnosis and views it as a prerequisite for planning an intervention. The twenty-first century has brought a high wave of technology and the internet. The modernization of civilization goes hand in hand with the rise of the internet and technology. The amount of information available on the internet is very useful and it widens the horizon of the users, however, it has its cons too. One of those cons is the trend of self-diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is diagnosing your illness either physical or mental without any medical degree or experience, based on information available on the internet or books or based on experiences. We often use the internet to research the symptoms or difficulties we experience, whether physical or mental. This exploration is healthy as it helps in understanding the symptoms and possible diagnosis; however, if we replace health professionals and base our trust only on the internet, it does more harm than good.

Self-diagnosis is a slippery slope as it might start with the intention of gaining information and result in being misinformed or even worse misdiagnosed. Being informed about the signs and symptoms is certainly empowering and leads to early intervention and care. The problem, however, is that we trust the internet and let go of the subtleties that are involved in the diagnosis. Especially when we talk about mental illnesses, self-diagnosis can lead to more stress, stigma, and misdirection. Many mental illnesses lie on a continuum of normality and abnormality, and assuming that one can differentiate and diagnose oneself without any professional training is unwise. For example, an individual might believe that low mood after the loss of a job is a major depression or an illusion is a hallucination. This over-diagnosis may lead to self-medication or panic. 

Another downside of self-diagnosing mental illness is missing a medical disease, which could be the cause of psychological syndrome. For instance, there are many cases where dysregulated hormones like thyroid may contribute to the etiology of a mental disorder like depression. In such cases, it becomes imperative to treat the underlying cause while treating the symptoms of depression. Self-diagnosis at times also leads to self-medication, which has grave consequences and can turn out to be life-threatening. When a medical practitioner prescribes psychiatric medications, he takes into account the patient’s symptoms, age, weight, medical history, psychiatric comorbidities, and many other factors. It is unwise to assume that one can rely on the internet or other sources to self-medicate, assuming that it will cure them. It is essential to understand that self-medication can lead to tremendous side effects and may even aggravate the existing illness. 

As already addressed, major dangers that self-diagnosis possesses are overdiagnosis, missing an important medical diagnosis, and self-medication. Another very important repercussion of self-diagnosis is missing the psychiatric comorbidities that exist. Comorbidity is the existence of two disorders together and it is a common phenomenon with the psychological syndrome. Disorders like anxiety, OCD, depression, and various others can occur at the same time and the symptoms might overlap. To identify, diagnose, and intervene comorbidities, takes experience and knowledge. Missing on these, comorbidities can affect the treatment and would act as a perpetuating factor for the illness.

Thus, it is encouraged to be informed about various illnesses, but not recommended to diagnose and plan the treatment yourself. Reading and researching about one’s illness has its benefits, but it is important to understand that one should not rely on it for diagnosis and intervention. Sure, there are benefits that the internet and books provide, like online communities and support groups for people experiencing mental and physical difficulties, which help an individual understand and accept their illness. Internet could provide support, but it cannot be a substitute for interventions and medications. Thus, one must be mindful of the risks that self-diagnosis hold and should always seek professionals help.



About the Author

Niti Joshi
MPhil Clinical Psychology Trainee.

I am a passionate mental health advocate and a believer of positive psychology. I am currently pursuing M.Phil in Clinical Psychology from Amity Un

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