The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

Hey everyone! This is Sage here! I hope you’re all enjoying your March break. I’ve already watched about a season of Grey’s Anatomy since Friday night. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead, I’m here to talk about an issue that is very important to me; the dangers of self-diagnosis.

Self-diagnosis is quite self-explanatory; it is the act of diagnosing yourself with an illness or disorder instead of consulting a doctor or mental health professional. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, it’s become something of a fad on tumblr, and has become the basis of many arguments in the mental health community. As someone who is very interested in psychology (and hopes to become a therapist!), I’m here to debunk one major argument used by many pro self-dxers:

“It’s not like I’m hurting anyone by doing this, so what’s the problem?”

Well, actually, you can. Not only can you hurt other people, but you can also hurt yourself.

Some psychologists are so fed up with their patients self-diagnosing themselves that they become skeptical of their other patients. Imagine, for a minute, that you were a psychologist; you spent almost a decade in university to learn about the intricacies of the human mind. You’ve studied textbooks and diagnostic reports and finally, you get a job where you can do what you’ve always wanted to do; help people. And then imagine someone comes in and tries to do that job for you. Someone who thinks they know as much as you, or even more so, after hearing about a disorder once on tumblr and then researching it for twenty minutes. It would be frustrating, devastating even, to know that someone in front of you needed your help but refused to let you give it to them. Besides, it would make you angry to think that they thought they could diagnose themselves. Even professional doctors and psychologists cannot diagnose themselves because they cannot be impartial.

As I said before, self-diagnosis can be dangerous to you too. In fact, you’re the one who can be hurt the most. If you self-diagnose yourself with a disorder– let’s say OCD, for example– you are going to start looking back at your behaviour and wondering what you can use to validate your self-diagnosis. Chances are, you’ll label things as symptoms when they really aren’t. But here’s the worst part of it; if OCD symptoms are always on your mind because you are constantly monitoring your behaviour for them, you are going to start showing symptoms even though you weren’t before. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

An incorrect self-diagnosis can cause physical harm as well. If you manage to convince a psychologist that you have a disorder you don’t actually have, and they prescribe you with medication, there could be consequences. There are many different medications out there to help with many different symptoms and illnesses, but it can be dangerous to take the wrong one for what you’re struggling with. For example, if you self-diagnose yourself with depression, you may decide to start taking antidepressants. But if the symptoms you misinterpreted as depression are actually symptoms of bipolar disorder, you could cause your mental illness to take a turn for the worse. PsychEducation’s article “Antidepressants That Aren’t ‘Antidepressants’” states these facts: “Antidepressants can make bipolar disorder worse in several ways … They can cause hypomania* where there was none. They can induce cycling**, or make it worse. They may keep a person from becoming truly stable.” (PsychEducation). Therefore, if your treatment involves medication of any kind, it is of the utmost importance to receive help from a professional.

You can also believe that what you have is a mental disorder when, in reality, you have a different problem entirely. This article, “The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis” by Psychology Today, explains this quite well. The article states, “One of the greatest dangers of self diagnosis … is that you may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome. Thus, if you have panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat. Even more serious is the fact that some brain tumors may present with changes in personality or psychosis or even depression.” (Psychology Today).

As I said before, I love psychology. I’m fascinated by the human brain and the disorders that can arise in it. I’m conscious of the social stigma around mental illness, and self-diagnosis is doing nothing to combat that stigma. It puts a bad light on the people who do their research, but know that in the end, they cannot diagnose themselves. It gives fodder to the people who will stop at nothing to shun mentally ill people. And it can hurt you, both mentally and physically.

All I can hope for is that this article can help someone out there before it’s too late.

*Hypomania = an emotional state characterized by a distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least 4 days (PsychCentral)

**Cycling = not the sport in this case, but rapid mood swings characteristic of bipolar disorder.