The Growing Trend of Self-Diagnosing in Mental Health

The Growing Trend of Self-Diagnosing in Mental Health

Key Points:
  • There is a surge in the self-diagnosis of mental health issues due to the ease of online content availability.
  • The treatment of mental health problems by oneself is founded on assumptions and neglects the complexities of these conditions. Therefore, the possibility of inappropriate diagnosis is high.
  • Although platforms offer social support, they also have the proliferation of false information, as seen in the misrepresentation of ADHD and Autism content on YouTube.
  • The solution to the problem of self-diagnosis is education, more comprehensive access to professional services, content regulation and the improvement of the training for mental health professionals.

At present, the use of the internet and social media is increasing for people to detect and diagnose their mental health problems. This is a definite change from the old situation when experts were the only ones with the knowledge to diagnose diseases. Online help has made people realise that they can deal with their mental problems and take over their mental health. In these changing times, we will gradually discover how the digital age is changing how mental healthcare is provided worldwide. Nonetheless, is this new development good or hazardous?

The diagnostic process for mental health disorders is a series of procedures that include a thorough evaluation of the symptoms, the personal history, and the physical exams. The expertly trained diagnosticians use the fact-check guidelines they have acquired through many years of apprenticeship to ensure the reliability of the mental health treatment.

In contrast, self-diagnosis is the process of finding out for oneself if they have a specific mental health condition or not without the help of a professional, usually through different ways on the internet and social media. To sum up, it is generally shallow and not very profound in thought, and frequently, the conclusion is wrong because of the oversimplification and the lack of knowledge, thus creating more problems through misdiagnosis.

Currently, the ease of getting information on social media along with the lack of availability of professionals with the diagnosis in budget is most likely the reasons why many individuals, like a 22-year-old professional named Riya (name changed), living in Delhi, will resort to online resources to self-diagnose their mental health problems rather than visiting a professional for help. Nonetheless, this aspect of self-diagnosis is usually not precise enough to show the complexity of the issue, which may lead to the postponement or the wrong treatment of the condition.

Social Media’s Dual Role

The core of this issue is the narration of experiences and the propagation of fake news, the two main elements.

Social media is now the world’s primary platform that encourages discussions concerning anything, including mental health. Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are places where people can find peace, putting their mental health problems in public view and thus connecting with other people and helping them to deal with these issues. 

However, it is a fact that the dangers of fake news are visible from the day-to-day. The threats of social media are more than the advantages.

Viral posts on TikTok/Instagram, where users have shown content that puts mental health issues in a bad light, have been causing the degradation of the seriousness of these issues. For example, One of the creators in a post stated that fighting an eating disorder could be as easy as having a meal, while another one was not ready to accept the fact that ADHD is not just for boys. Similarly, people who have their own self-diagnosed PTSD feel that it is the problem of only veterans, and hence, the average population can’t have PTSD.

In tandem with these trends, a study involving 1000 Americans revealed staggering figures: 48% of participants had self-diagnosed anxiety, 37% for depression, and 31% for ADHD. Another research also showed that many ADHD videos on YouTube are not scientifically based and are oversimplified, which led to misinformation about ADHD being spread.

The same applies to the videos analysed with the #Autism hashtag on different social media platforms, which revealed the staggering figures. Of the top 133 videos, only 27% were accurate, 41% of the videos needed more extended materials, and 32% of the videos overgeneralised the topic. It was quite a surprise, but the audiences’ engagement level between the real and the fake content remained the same. Still, the videos of healthcare professionals were more trustworthy.

The reason people will never stop from the stigmas and these unproven treatments will be increased is the broad distribution of false information, which, in turn, will make people not know about the fundamental nature of these disorders.

Checklists and Consequences 

Users on LinkedIn have carried out the observation on which the trend is that of fear of seeing mental health disorders as checklists of symptoms. The online resources available, for instance, the self-administered tests and quizzes or the blog posts sharing the mental health experience, allow for the checklist attitude to be adopted, which can cause individuals to self-diagnose based on the simple knowledge of mental health conditions. Research shows that some of the conditions, such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), can be easily self-diagnosed more often than others, such as mania and substance use disorders, which can be very difficult to identify.

A social psychology student said, “Self-diagnosis is a phenomenon which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who are in the wrong about themselves and say they have a mental illness may start to behave like those who have that diagnosis, even if their symptoms are not serious or are temporary. How a child describes their issues might be distorted or exaggerated, which, in turn, could cause the condition to become worse. Accordingly, mental health professionals would find it difficult to be able to diagnose and treat it correctly.”

The fact that people are already beginning to accept these unverified claims and are self-treating is even more alarming. Nowadays, it is effortless to buy over-the-counter drugs and start the exercises online, which makes it quite attractive for people to begin self-prescribing the solutions. However, this could lead to more issues for both the body and the mind.

Interventions for Empowerment

There’s a critical difference between self-identification and self-diagnosis.

Self-identification is the act of personally identifying what you have experienced or what you are without labelling it as a mental health condition. At the same time, self-diagnosis entails attributing particular mental health conditions to oneself without professional assessment or diagnosis.

Self-recognition is the key to the door that leads to mental well-being; it is the factor that promotes the open dialogue about mental health and wants to make the early identification of the symptoms. The study mentioned above also showed that less than half of the participants asked for a second opinion on their self-diagnosis, 82% of whom found that the second opinion confirmed the participants’ diagnosis. 

The primary method of dealing with self-diagnosis problems is implementing the following steps.

First of all, it is essential to create education and awareness programs that will instruct people about mental health conditions properly and emphasize the necessity of hiring a professional for detection and treatment. In addition, the key is to make counselling and therapy services available that are sensitive to India’s cultural and traditional values, specifically in rural areas.

Internet content regulations are crucial to ensure that mental health Information is valid, trusted, and ethical

Moreover, medical professionals should be able to cope with self-diagnosed people so that they can give them the proper support and guidance. In conclusion, the everyday mental health on social media platforms, while considering professional evaluation and support, can create a culture of responsible self-assessment and intervention.

Users can engage in a beginner’s guide towards checking information on the internet as a daily practice, which could involve asking the following questions: 

  • Does the content/influencer in the posts provide evidence for the claims that they are making?
  • Do they hold opinions that are based solely on their life experiences?
  • Does the information provided in the post conform with the other trusted sources?
  • Are there any monetary incentives that push the creator to discuss any issues?
  • Finding answers to these questions may result in a better understanding of the information and, thus, lead to a more nuanced analysis of content.

Cultivating Responsible Awareness 

While the fact that self-diagnosis in mental health is becoming more and more common is proof of the new trend and the growing awareness, it also has serious problems. This increasing trend of self-diagnosis must be solved by society through education, regulation, and the ability to access mental health services. By promoting self-assessment based on responsibility, in collaboration with professional help, India can use the strengths of self-diagnosis. At the same time, it must be wary about its risks. Today, it is essential to rise collectively to deal with all the challenges and support each other throughout.

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References +
  • Thapa, P., Thapa, A., Khadka, N., Bhattarai, R., Jha, S., Khanal, A., & Basnet, B. (2018). YouTube lens to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a social media analysis. BMC Research Notes, 11(1).
  • Rutter, L. A., Howard, J., Lakhan, P., Valdez, D., Bollen, J., & Lorenzo-Luaces, L. (2023). “I haven’t been diagnosed, but I should Be”—Insight into Self-diagnoses of common Mental Health Disorders: Cross-sectional study. JMIR Formative Research, 7, e39206.
  • Is self-diagnosis on social media helping or hurting people’s health? (n.d.). The Intake.
  • Cassata, C. (2024, April 11). People Are Misdiagnosing Themselves with Autism from TikTok Misinformation. Healthline.
  • Aragon-Guevara, D., Castle, G., Sheridan, E., & Vivanti, G. (2023). The reach and accuracy of information on autism on TikTok. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
  • LinkedIn. (n.d.).
  • (27) Social Media’s Role in Self-Diagnosis and Why it’s becoming a concern | LinkedIn. (2023, May 19).
  • (27) Navigating the rise of Self-Diagnosing Mental Health Issues | LinkedIn. (2024, March 5).

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