Self-Diagnosing: For the Better or Worse?
By: Chloe Cho, Contributing Writer
It feels like nowadays, more than ever, everyone has a mental illness. “I’m depressed,” “I have OCD,” and “I have anxiety” are some of the most common ones it seems. With the rise of social media and the enlightening of mental health, mental illnesses are increasingly romanticized. This is seen by the popular TV show “13 Reasons Why,” which is about a girl who commits suicide and leaves thirteen tapes explaining the reasons behind it. It gone under criticism for skating over mental illness, which is the cause of up to 90 percent of all suicide cases. Because of romanticization, teenagers are becoming more inclined to self-diagnose themselves. On the other hand, self-diagnosing could be valid and help someone identify treatments for that mental illness. I asked some teens what they thought about the controversy, and this is what they had to say.
Around ⅔ of all people with mental illness do not receive proper treatment. This can be attributed to two causes. One is the inaccessibility to mental health care. “Proper diagnosis is a privilege, and it is influenced by many factors, including things like race, age, and gender, which makes it super biased,” said one sixteen-year-old. “In addition to that, mental health care is expensive, and as I said before, people can exhibit behaviors without ever getting a proper diagnosis because of factors that they have no control over. And like, diagnosis is just an official label from a doctor. I think that if you look into it enough, self-diagnosing is okay.” Two is the fear of sharing about mental health illnesses in society. Despite their romanticization, there is still a taboo on the topic in many cultures and societies.
Additionally, many mental health illnesses are triggered by a traumatic event, and it can be difficult, almost impossible, to talk about that event. “I think it depends on the illness; things like depression, OCD, and bipolar should absolutely be [diagnosed] by a professional,” said another teenager. “However, I feel like it doesn’t take a genius or a professional to recognize when you are having a panic attack or being triggered by something. I’m medically diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and I’ve done a huge amount of research on PTSD, and I believe I show extremely common signs... I feel like PTSD/CPTSD is okay to self diagnose because it’s really hard to talk to a professional about and share those experiences.”
It could also prove life-saving to self-diagnose. Unlike physical illnesses, mental illnesses are more difficult to identify because they are still widely unknown. However, suspecting that you or someone has a mental disorder could lead to a psychiatrist’s visits for verification. However, “If you do not have access to therapy or a psychiatrist or testing, I believe it is okay to say that you THINK you might have a specific mental illness,” said the same sixteen-year-old. “Going around claiming you have something because you looked up the symptoms can be super invalidating to those who actually struggle. But if you have done your research and can not access a therapist to properly diagnose you, I think saying you struggle with the behaviors is fine. Like for example, if someone was obviously displaying [signs] like eating disorder behaviors but didn’t have a proper diagnosis, they still have those like, behaviors even if it’s not officially diagnosed.”
On the other hand, self-diagnosing can also be dangerous. “When you're diagnosing yourself, you may go completely wrong and skip the treatment you might urgently need, and misdiagnosis will give wrong treatments,” said another young teen. “If you do diagnose properly, then you'll receive the right treatment. However, I think the chances of us rightly diagnosing ourselves is less [than diagnosing incorrectly] and so that's why I believe self-diagnosing is extremely unsafe.”Self-diagnosing can also undermine what really makes a mental illness. “It removes the meaning in mental illness,” said another teen. “It’s the same as putting trigger warnings for every single thing and even giving more power by creating slurs for literally every letter.”
So... what do you do if you think you have a mental illness?
First, do as much research as possible on trusted medical websites and if possible, reach out to trusted friends or family to help you access mental health care. “I think it’s okay if you can’t afford a therapist or you know your parents or guardians won’t take you seriously and you’ve done your research on it,” said a different teenage girl. However, it is best not label yourself with a mental illness until professional diagnosis, as it might be incorrect. “It’s fine to be aware of you having symptoms, but don't go around saying ‘Oh, I have anxiety’ or ‘Oh, I have depression’ because you have no idea,” said another teen. “I’m 99% sure I have anxiety and maybe some sort of depression, but I don't tell people I have it because I’m not diagnosed. You don't say you have cancer or heart disease or dementia without being diagnosed, so I don’t know why you wouldn't treat mental illness the same way.”
Link to cover image: https://dazedprod.blob.core.windows.net/dazed-prod/1240/0/1240699.gif