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Mental Health

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Mental Health

With the growing rise in awareness and information on the subject of mental health comes the dangerous possibility of misinformation through online sources. Read on to know why Google shouldn’t be consulted every time.

Nov 21, 2023

4 min read

Written by Geeta  Rao
Medically Reviewed by 

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A pensive woman sits in the shadows with her hand on her head, looking despondent

The entire spectrum of mental health, from mental wellbeing to mental disorder, is now important enough for the declaration of a World Mental Health Day, a day for us to stop and acknowledge that mental health needs attention.

The focus on mental health and the need to normalise the conversation have certainly had a positive impact. On the flip side, it has also led to rampant self-diagnosis. Ok, everyone goes down the search rabbit hole. 

Still, there is the danger of diagnosing ourselves with mental illnesses and disorders which may or may not exist or have causes that could be physical, nutritional, or even a hormonal imbalance. 

For example, a vitamin B deficiency or thyroid imbalance can mimic symptoms of mild depression.

Sometimes, admiration for a beloved icon, a sports star or Bollywood star who has come out bravely to acknowledge their struggles with mental health can lead to identification with their symptoms or struggle. Yes, you feel you have similar issues, but even if you do, your triggers may not be the same. Remember, the stars always urge you to seek help, not self-diagnose.

Why a professional diagnosis is critical to understanding and acting on your mental health

Clinical depression, personality disorders, eating disorders, psychotic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and PTSDs are just some mental disorders we hear about, and they need to be diagnosed and treated in the medical world.  However, initial symptoms may not present themselves as red flags unless you are an expert, and herein lie the risks of self-diagnosing mental health disorders.

“A professional diagnosis looks at a cluster of signs and symptoms, their duration, their impact on psychosocial functioning in daily life to evaluate its seriousness.” says Dr Lakshmi Sankaran, PhD, Community Mental Health Specialist and Deputy Director at BALM (Banyan Academy for Leadership In Mental Health) 

Cyberchondria, the net version of hypochondria, leads you to believe you have health issues when you read about them. It also results in what an article on calls the “scrolling echo chamber”; the more you search for a topic, the more search engines will throw the topic back at you, making you feel your diagnosis is correct and serious.

There are other things that contribute to easy diagnosis—‘Five signs you are depressed”-kind of pop quizzes or listicles in magazines that also come with quick fix ‘cures’ that usually include yes, yoga, meditation and exercise.

“Sometimes", says Sankaran, “you can self-diagnose and stay stuck with coping strategies – pray, exercise, meditate, yoga, even substance usage when there is a solution and correct diagnosis at hand and medication if required through the help of a professional. This reduces anxiety and helps you plan forward.” 

Blog quote

Self-diagnosis is a form of having some control and certainty in an otherwise fragile world.

Micky Bhatia, Training and Supervising Analyst with PTRC (Psychoanalytic Therapy and Research Centre)

 A search for answers by itself is not a bad thing. It can be reassuring. Feeling that something is off kilter, that you are not yourself, reflects an intuitive understanding and a degree of awareness of what is happening in your head— something only you know. “Self-diagnosis,” says Micky Bhatia, Training and Supervising Analyst with PTRC (Psychoanalytic Therapy and Research Centre ), “is a form of having control and some form of knowing and certainty in an otherwise fragile world.” 

What are the safest ways to avoid the dangers of self-diagnosing mental illness?

Read but with restraint

Yes, the mental health conversation has opened up. Search, read, and be aware of what you are going through. But validate it with a mental health professional. Self-diagnosing mental illness can also be a misdiagnosis or put you into denial.

Consult with a professional

Start with a simple consultation—with a counsellor, a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. An expert opinion from a qualified mental health professional is the best option.

A clinical psychologist is someone who has a Master's degree in Psychology and also an M.Phil in Clinical Psychology recognised by the Rehabilitation Council of India. A psychiatrist with an MBBS degree and an MD or DNB in Psychiatry could lead to solutions you hadn’t even considered. 

Medically reviewed by:

Dr B. S. Mahesh, Clinical Psychologist

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