Type: Definition Essays
Sample donated: Merle Sparks
Last updated: September 23, 2019
Introduction of New PhenomenonWith the advancement of various social media networks and a plethora of information readily available online, the phenomenon of self-diagnosing mental illnesses has become the new up-and-coming trend of the 21st century. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an international advocacy group recognized by the government, “..one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness.
..” (Estroff 1991) with depression and anxiety being the majority: it’s no wonder there is an urge to label. Self-diagnosing is a way to explain the issues an individual is going through and possibly find a community. However, with widespread self-diagnosis of mental illnesses – especially among the younger demographics – comes all types of issues including undermining doctor authority, misdiagnosis, prescription addiction, overlooking potential physical problems, and developing a condition that did not exist originally. On the flip side, many people argue that self-diagnosis is beneficial – even necessary – as it helps people who don’t have the means to get a physician’s help or the financial capability to address their issue and establish control of their health. Definition of Self-diagnosis of Mental IllnessOxford dictionary defines self-diagnosis as “to diagnose oneself as having a particular medical condition” (Oxford Dictionary, 2008). In the new heated discussion among the medical community, the Psychology Today article “The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis”, defines self-diagnosis in a different manner as “.
..essentially assuming that you know the subtleties that diagnosis constitutes” (Pillay, 2010) and goes on to warn that, “This can be very dangerous, as people who assume that they can surmise what is going on with themselves may miss the nuances of diagnosis” (Pillay, 2010). Psychology Today is known to have renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists, and writers contribute, however, it is not an official academic journal. Another Psychology Today article by Srini Pillay states “…if you have (a) panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat” (Pillay, 2010) or in more serious cases “.
..some brain tumors may present with changes in personality or psychosis or even depression” (Pillay, 2010). Self-diagnosis would cause a person to overlook such physical conditions because of their own preconceived idea of what they have, even if a professional says otherwise – a phenomenon called belief perseverance – and seek for false information (such as online websites) to confirm their inaccurate belief – a tendency called confirmation bias.Distrust of DoctorsFueled by self-diagnosis, a growing distrust between patient and doctor is dangerous to the mental health of the patient. According to Kaiser Health News, an international nonprofit news service covering health issues, at least 10 to 20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed by licensed and authorized physicians (Levine, 2016). If that percent is substantial enough for those who have studied the human anatomy, then the percent of misdiagnoses by regular people are even higher – some even life-threatening.
Furthermore, if more and more people start distrusting the medical community and rely on their own intuition or faulty online research to spread their stance through social media or among their peers, then a community of mistrust cultivates – increasing the percent of misdiagnosed and untreated illnesses. In fact, this is not a hypothetical scenario: a Z generation of individualism and self-reliance is brewing (Rachel, 2010). In some cases, such as entrepreneurial or educational endeavors, it is beneficial, however, in situations of critical health prognosis, it is detrimental.Prescription Drug AddictionIn any situation, a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist has the highest authority to diagnose. However, in some extreme cases, when a patient insists on having a condition or “doctor shops” – changes doctors until they find a doctor that confirms their belief – it may impact the tests the doctor runs or the thoroughness of the process. Ultimately, hospitals can grow to become multi-corp businesses that must meet the demands of their customers as described by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Medicine, a government website (Rachel, 2010). Furthermore, if a patient gets wrongly diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety (when they really have a physical issue), then they may develop an addiction to the wrongly prescribed drug. Dr.
Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, reports, “Every 19 minutes someone dies because of misuse of prescription medications” (Gupta 2012) and, “…As much attention as we pay to illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin, the truth is prescription medications kill more people in this country than those illicit drugs combined” (Gupta 2012). CNN is one of the most popular, credible international television news channel, however, critics state that it has a leniency toward liberal views.
A common example of prescription drug abuse is Adderall, commonly known as the top “study drug”, especially among college students because it aids with motivation, focus and concentration as well as a feeling of euphoria and it is relatively easy to obtain (Sanchez, 2010). The intended use is for people with ADHD to stay alert and focused, however, it is heavily misused. Those who self-diagnose themselves with ADHD or other learning disabilities may obtain this prescription drug without going through the lengthy and costly process of getting prescribed by a psychiatrist and develop an addiction instead.
(Feinn, 2009)Overlooking Physical ConditionsWith an addition to prescription drug addiction, self-diagnosis oversimplifying complex medical issues is another overlooked consequence. Taking over-the-counter medications or natural remedies as suggested by WebMD to “cure” a mental illness can worsen or overshadow the underlying medical condition. Ocean Breeze Recovery, a government website, explains that “…the depressed patient may have an underactive thyroid gland” or “(the patient) with panic attacks may have a pheochromocytoma, a tumor that secretes epinephrine…” (Delive, 2015). The internet and recent popular television programs and movies such as The Woodsman lead common people to think they have one distinct disorder, when in fact in many cases there are two or more disorders affecting together – a condition called comorbidity. Health issues are extremely interconnected as described by licensed psychiatrist Dr.
Martin as “…a biological disease can produce mental health symptoms, while some mental illnesses generate somatic symptoms” (Martin, 2017) so only a licensed practitioner can decipher the true nature of an illness if there is even one. The risk of oversimplifying mental health illnesses to “cookie cutters” labels by the insufficient information online is taking the wrong prescription and having a wrong mental perception – which may actually psychologically develop certain mental disorders such as anxiety.
Internet Aiding Self-Diagnosis Although there are many government sites that provide accurate medical information, the majority of the people do not take the time and effort to find reliable sources and read through detailed reports. Instead, most people click the first site they see to gain quick information. Unfortunately, search engines have a tendency to provide information about the most serious types of ailments at the beginning of the search results because it displays the most viewed sites first. Many clickbait type websites only showcase the most severe cases to attract more viewers, skewing the reality of the majority. In fact, in a study conducted by Microsoft researchers, the probability that the word “brain tumor” would come up in response to a web search for the symptom “headache” stood at 0.26, which is the same probability “caffeine withdrawal” would appear instead (Levine, 2016). Moreover, if someone has a preconceived idea that they may have a specific illness and most of the information online inaccurately confirms this belief, it reiterates a distrust between the doctor and patient. A new phenomenon of “cyberchondria”, first developed in early 2008, describes the recent reliance on WebMD (a controversial website for healthcare information) and other internet sources for primary health advice.
Cyberchondria, although considered a trivial pop-culture term by the medical community, is defined as, “Unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web” (Levine, 2016).Furthermore, the average American spends an average of an hour each week browsing for health information online, however, most of the searches are targeted and based on poorly vetted sources (Gale 2017). Identified by disputable Time article, a prominent example of cyberchondria is popular among teenage girls of 12-18 years in self-diagnosing clinical depression when feeling down for a short period of time through online “research” (Schorobsdorff, 2016). Speculators predict such frequent mood elevations in teenagers can be a result of hormonal changes during puberty, a transitional phase for adolescents, lack of social interaction in an age of social media or just regular sadness that every person feels from time to time. Fueling Social StigmaMany mental health activists warn that this recent trend of self-diagnosis, through the aid of the internet and social media, is dangerous to the acceptance of mental illnesses as a real health condition because it allows people to compare regular day to day sadness – that every person feels – to clinical depression. This inaccurate ideology fuels the social stigma that mental illness is a choice and can easily be fixed, causing people with real mental illnesses to face discrimination among peers, work and refuse treatment (Corrigan, 2017). In fact, growing feelings of shame or guilt among those with real mental illnesses due to social stigma can serve as a catalyst for relapse or development of worse conditions.
Furthermore, if someone who doesn’t have a clinical mental illness propagates that they do, it trivializes the reality of clinical issues and the real struggle that people enduring mental illness go through (Corrigan, 2017). When false proclamations of mental illness are spread online, especially by celebrities or public figures, it can foster wrong perceptions of mental health issues as “cool” or “trendy”, possibly explaining the recent growth of self-diagnosed mentally ill teenagers and adolescents. In fact, major depression, clinically diagnosed or self-diagnosed, among teens in the US have jumped 37% in the last decade as reported by Susanna Schrobsdorff from TIME (Schorobsdorff, 2016). TIME is a popular weekly news magazine that is not considered an academic journal, however, Susanna Schrobsdorff is reputable for research in societal changes. With an escalation of misdiagnosis, critics can suggest mental health issues are for the “weak minded” or can be “cured” with a positive mindset.
CounterargumentOn the flip side, many people argue that self-diagnosis is beneficial – even necessary – as it helps people who don’t have the means to get a physician’s help or the financial capability to address their issue and establish control of their health. Others say that easy access to medical information via internet allows people to be proactive before the issue accelerates. Additionally, social media networks give a platform for people to find a community of like-minded people seeking acceptance and resources. Since mental health itself is still a heavily debated subject amongst the medical community and new research contradicts old research, it instills social stigma amongst the general public (Estroff, 1991). The social stigma that comes with being mentally ill results in many people avoiding professional help – especially among lower-income communities or immigrants (Gale 2017). However, with more information constantly available to the public, it is easier for people to overcome stigma and seek help with a diagnosis in mind.
As such self-diagnosis is beneficial in some aspects. However, as previously stated, self-diagnosis foments prescription drug addiction, misdiagnosis, undermining doctor authority, overlooking physical conditions fuels social stigma. By concluding that self-diagnosis is purely “bad” or “good” is callously oversimplifying the issue: an efficient solution to the crisis can only be constructed and carried out by considering both sides. SolutionUniversity of Wisconsin students can access mental health services through University Health Services. These services encompass individual therapy (ten free appointments per semester), group therapy and a 24-hour crisis line.
The government should instill a plan similar to that to regulate the dangers of self-diagnosis but allow for free, accurate information online at the same time.