self-diagnosing online

Self-Diagnosing Mental Illness

With the vast amount of information available on the internet, many people turn to these resources to make sense of the symptoms they are experiencing. Social media has only exacerbated this phenomenon, especially with the rising popularity of video content online. Both video and text posts can create unnecessary concern. As a result, this leads people to self-diagnosing a mental illness based on what they have seen.

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Mental Illness

Reading or watching mental health content online that is based on personal experiences rather than research or proven facts often leads to a false perception of disorders. One of the challenges of diagnosing a mental illness for professionals is the overlap in symptoms between diagnoses. Part of the job of clinicians is to determine which mental health issue is the root of a person’s symptoms. During this process, they make observations and ask questions to narrow down potential conditions. Self-diagnosing a mental illness based on internet research can be dangerous because:

  • Symptoms may present differently in people
  • An official diagnosis requires specific criteria to be met (duration, number, and severity of symptoms)
  • Symptoms discussed online may have a different cause than the original source thinks
  • It can increase anxiety and stress

How to Utilize Online Information on Mental Illness

Any thought, behavior, or physical change can create concern. It’s natural for people to seek out answers to what they are experiencing. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 35% of adults have utilized the internet to help determine what medical condition they have. Here are some practical tips for using this information in a positive way:

  1. Find Professional and Peer-Reviewed Articles: When looking for potential sources of information, use articles written by professionals in the field. Anything that is peer-reviewed is also trustworthy as these are founded in research and go through a content review process to ensure accuracy.
  2. Use Research to Inform Conversations: Online research can give people a starting point for conversations with medical professionals. They can then use this to create a list of concerns to discuss in a future appointment. 
  3. Acknowledge Limitations of Online Sources: Even content written by professionals online has its limitations. While these articles are backed by scientific evidence, they don’t take into account your personal experiences. 

Self-Diagnosing and Substance Use Disorders

Online information can be helpful in identifying if someone has a mental illness, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in the diagnostic process. This should be a starting point and an encouragement to seek out a professional opinion. For those who are struggling with an existing substance use disorder, it may be tempting to try self-diagnosing rather than talking to a medical or mental health provider. A common response for people with an addiction is to isolate and be resistant to discussing concerns or behavior changes. They may have fear or shame related to these symptoms, leading them to turn to the internet for answers. However, this can increase fear and anxiety, furthering their substance use issues. Because of this, it’s vital that they address any concerns as soon as possible.

Treatment for Addiction and Mental Illness

Substance use disorders often co-occur with mental illnesses, resulting in a need for specialized treatment. If you are managing an addiction in combination with a mental health disorder, Recovery Without Walls can help. We offer a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program where we work alongside patients to develop healthy coping skills while addressing the root causes of these disorders. Our treatment team will ensure you have the tools you need to maintain sobriety and manage outside stressors both during and beyond your time at our center. If you’re ready to begin your path to sobriety, contact our California treatment center today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program.