The Dangers of Self Diagnosis for Mental Health
- I get tired so easily. I can barely get out of bed. It’s got to be depression.
- I’m so moody. My friends must hate me. I bet I’m bipolar just like my uncle.
- I can’t stop overeating. I know it’s anxiety.
If you’ve ever considered a collection of physical and mental symptoms you were having and speculated a diagnosis, you are not alone. To some extent, that’s human nature. You consider observable facts, then you draw the best possible conclusion you can from those facts. The problem is that when it comes to your health, inaccurate, self-diagnosis can be dangerous. This is just as true for mental health as it is for physical health. Keep reading to explore why.
By Self Diagnosing You May Miss an Underlying Physical Cause for Your Symptoms
Recently, a popular ad campaign ‘Depression Hurts’ drew attention to the fact that clinical depression is often accompanied by physical pain. The purpose was to educate and to encourage compassion towards people with this disease. In one sense this is a good thing.
On the other hand, if someone was attempting to self-diagnose, this is the kind of information that could cause them to ignore any potential physical causes for their symptoms. Yes, the persistent sadness and soreness could definitely be major depression. It could also be a combination of depression and an unrelated physical illness. It could also be something else entirely. As a result, treatment for a physical ailment could be delayed or simply not happen at all.
Self-Diagnosis Can Impair Your Relationship with Your Doctor
Good relationships with healthcare providers are based on trust. If you don’t trust your doctor to come up with the right diagnosis, it’s time to figure out why. Did the relationship get off on the wrong foot? Do you question their experience? Do you feel brushed off or unheard? If so, work to address those issues or consider working with another provider.
A good doctor will encourage you to become an educated healthcare consumer. That’s what your research should be focused on. For example, it’s great to research various treatment options after you’ve been diagnosed. It’s also helpful to research symptoms in order to better communicate them to your physician. However, at the end of the day, you should be able to trust your doctor’s ability to take all of the information they have gathered and come up with a reasonable diagnosis. If there’s a lack of trust from the get-go, that should be addressed.
You Could Endanger Yourself by Delaying Treatment
For many people, self-diagnosis is often followed by a self-designed plan for treatment. Sometimes that means no treatment at all. For example, somebody may simply decide they need to relax and take it easy, or they may attribute their issues to a lack of self-discipline or being overly emotional. In that case, their treatment might consist of simply coping with or ignoring their symptoms.
This is dangerous. Just like delaying treatment for any other illness, delaying treatment for mental illness can be deadly. You would likely never tell someone to follow their instinct that a lump is probably just a lump. Don’t make the mistake of telling yourself that mental health symptoms are something that can simply be blown off altogether or ignored until the time is more convenient. Delaying treatment could mean getting to a very dark place, or becoming increasingly dysfunctional and less able to make decisions on your own behalf.
Your Denial or Discomfort with Certain Symptoms Can Lead to Wrong Conclusions
Let’s be honest. Not all symptoms of mental illness are pleasant to consider. Dark thoughts, poor decisions, mistreatment of others, and maladaptive behaviors are all symptoms of mental illness. Unfortunately, the temptation to deny these symptoms or minimize them is high. For example, it might be easy for a patient to acknowledge that they feel dark, depressed, and unmotivated. On the other hand, they may struggle to acknowledge that they pick fights with loved ones, create needless drama, and are frequently manipulative.
Rita Lucero covers health topics at GetGoodGrade. She explains: “When people deny or minimize symptoms that they are not comfortable with, they are significantly less likely to come up with a proper diagnosis. This is why it is imperative that a professional with the ability to view your situation objectively provides your final diagnosis.”
That diagnosis may be uncomfortable for you and difficult to deal with. Just keep in mind that appropriate treatment can’t follow a diagnosis that was made by sacrificing accuracy for your comfort or convenience.
Symptoms That May Not Be Alarming to You Could Be Missed or Dismissed
One of the challenges of treating and diagnosing mental illness is that many symptoms may not seem problematic to the people suffering from them. For example, compulsive behavior may seem perfectly reasonable to the person feeling those compulsions. Delusions or hallucinations can appear to be absolutely realistic to the person who is having them. Feelings of euphoria, invincibility, or significantly increased productivity can feel wonderful at the time a patient is experiencing those things.
Each of the symptoms above may be ignored as being perfectly normal, valid, or even as a positive. That’s the problem with diagnosing yourself from the inside out. There’s no objectivity. Things you may view as being perfectly healthy and normal from your perspective could be absolutely alarming for others witnessing or experiencing those behaviors externally.
People Tend to Diagnose the Illness They Want to Have
The truth is, when many people diagnose themselves that diagnosis reflects the illness they would prefer to have, not the one that they actually do. For example, it may be easier for a patient to deal with a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, so they interpret their symptoms in a way that leads to that conclusion. This may be more palatable to them than to a consider a diagnosis such as a personality disorder. Likewise, if a patient learns that one diagnosis has an easier path to treatment and a better prognosis, they may tend to diagnose themselves as having that than they would an illness that is much more challenging to treat.
“Unfortunately, self-diagnosis can be used as both a way to deny or take on too much responsibility,” shares Cecilia Morse, a health writer at Best Writers Canada. “For example, someone struggling with thoughts of self-loathing may assume that their personality is flawed and that their issues are solely related to behavior or self-discipline. Conversely, another person may insist upon diagnosing themselves in a way that they believe absolves them of personal responsibility for their decisions and behaviors.”
Lay Persons Don’t Always Know How to Discern Good Medical Information from Bad
A trained medical professional consumes a large amount of information relating to their field. Much of this information comes from sources that patients are not privy to. When it comes to information that is publicly available, doctors and other professionals have the training and experience to discern good information and to dismiss bad information. They understand what constitutes a properly conducted and peer-reviewed study. They know the difference between correlation and causation. They can quickly determine the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) difference between content intended to educate and content intended to sell or stir emotion. They know which publishers are reputable and which are not. They especially know, within their own fields, the professionals whose writings and opinions are above board and whose are for sale.
Before you are tempted to diagnose yourself, consider your own profession or another area of expertise. Let’s imagine you are an auto mechanic. Now, imagine a customer comes to you certain they know better than you their car’s problems. You ask them how they have drawn that conclusion and they refer to several outdated car magazines, and point out a paper written by a mechanic that you know has been subject to several lawsuits due to incompetence and dishonesty policies.
Your Diagnosis Could Be Needlessly Dark or Severe
Here’s another possibility to consider. Things may simply not be as bad as you imagine. By self-diagnosing rather than being patient and waiting for feedback from your doctor, you could be causing yourself needless stress or concern. Sometimes, the best path is to let things work through proper channels. Then, you will receive the most accurate diagnosis possible.
Yes. Doctors do Make Mistakes
Everyone has heard stories where doctors have gotten things wrong. You may have even experienced this yourself. In spite of this, a licensed physician is incredibly more likely to arrive at an accurate diagnosis for your illness than you are. Work with your doctor instead of around them.
Conclusion: Be an Empowered and Educated Healthcare Consumer
Waiting for a mental health diagnosis takes time. It can be frustrating, and the truth is your initial diagnosis may not be completely accurate. It isn’t as if there is an x-ray or blood test. The best thing you can do is learn as much as you can. Record your symptoms when you have them. Learn about any family history. Provide as much useful information to your doctor as possible. Always be honest about your symptoms, even the darker ones. This is how you can assure that you receive the most accurate diagnosis and treatment that you can.
Milli Winter is a chief content writer at canada writers.com and enthusiastic blogger. She likes to make complicated topics fun and engaging to read.