We all do it. Google our symptoms. There’s been many’s a night when I’ve been kept awake with abdominal pain or a bad headache or something strange like feeling off balance, and have googled my symptoms and ended up scaring myself shitless as I scroll through the suggested illnesses. And just the other week I internet diagnosed myself with laryngytitis (as it turns out, the nurses in hospital agreed that’s what it was). It’s something you can’t really help doing- you’ve a bunch of strange or uncomfortable symptoms and you’d like to know what the hell’s going on, like, right now.
I live in the UK, which in theory means free healthcare for all (yay!) But it doesn’t always work like that. Health services, particularly mental health services, can be really, really shitty because there is so little funding and investment into them. So even if you’re fortunate enough to have a GP that listens and is willing to refer you on to the right services, it can take MONTHS to actually meet with someone from a mental health team for an initial assessment, and longer still to actually begin treatment or see a psychiatrist. So if it’s difficult to access the appropriate help in a country where help is meant to be free and accessible, it’s going to be a lot harder in a country where it isn’t. And I get that. I get that getting diagnosed isn’t easy or even feasible for a lotttttt of people.
When there’s something going on with your health, it’s natural to be worried and, particularly if you’re knowledgeable about different conditions, it’s normal to suspect or have an idea of what it might be. No one goes to the doctor because they feel fine- you go because you’re worried or concerned about a set of symtoms, and because you’ve recognised that you have that set of symtoms, chances are know what might be causing them. Before I was diagnosed with depression I was aware of what it was, and aware that the symptoms I had were similar to those of depression- and that’s what prompted me to ask for help in the first place.
But I kind of don’t really agree with the whole Dr Google thing. At the very least, I think it’s something you gotta be really, really careful with.
You know you best. But what you don’t have, is objectivity. Sometimes, if you’re caught up in your head, you mightn’t be entirely sure what your symptoms are, or you might present differently. Like when I was manic, other people could tell I was manic, while I thought I was perfectly fine. And I insisted that I knew me best, and everyone else was trying to tell me ‘but you’ve lost insight’. So what subjectively feels ok, or normal, or abnormal to you, mightn’t actually be the case objectively. Similarly, you might miss something, or ignore important symptoms that a doctor or mental health professional might pick up on. When I was first diagnosed at 16, I was diagnosed with anxiety as well as depression. I wasn’t aware that I was clinically anxious- I was concerned about my mood. But the psychologists assessing me were able to pick up on the anxiety. It’s like if you go to the GP with bloating, abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements- you might assume you have IBS. But the GP is able to do a blood test to find out you have coeliac or an infection. So you might have symptoms of a mental illness that YOU can see, but chances are, you also have symptoms that you CAN’T see- and that a mental health professional will. So you’re self diagnosis mightn’t be accurate.
Self diagnosing can be dangerous, because there’s a chance you’ll talk yourself into having the condition you think you have, or that you’ll try to make your symptoms ‘fit’ into a particular disorder, when they could be better explained by something else. I remember watching some documentary style TV show where a patient went in to the doctor having diagnosed himself with condition X and after examining him and hearing his symptoms, the doctor diagnosed him with Y. And the patient asked (repeatedly) ‘and you’re SURE it’s not X?’ When you can relate to part of a disorder, it’s easy to want to try and make the rest of your symptoms fit into that illness too- because having a neat little label that explains things is nice. But like in the TV show, trying to twist your symptoms to fit into a particular illness means you could be ignoring the real problem. Then there’s the chance you could almost ‘talk yourself’ into thinking you have symptoms that you don’t. Like when someone complains of being itchy or having a headache or needing to pee, and suddenly you feel those things too. If you can relate to part of an illness, you might start to try justifying how you fit ALL the criteria, or try to understand what you’re going through in the context of that illness. For example, you might hear an internal voice in your head that berates you for eating or calls you bad names or encourages you to self harm and think/say it means you are experiencing psychosis, when the experience of hearing voices is very different from an abusive internal monologue.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions. If you were concerned about something physical, while you might google symptoms or suspect what it might be, chances are, you’d go to a doctor and get it properly checked out before telling anyone you have gall stones or refer to ‘my arthritis is playing up’. You certainly wouldn’t take an online quiz and then start claiming you had cancer or diabetes because the test indicated that’s what you might have. But that is literally what some people do with mental illnesses- and this is where I steer from being unsure about self diagnosis, to being completely against it. An online test generally will ask you a limited number of yes or no or ‘very like me, like me, unsure, not like me, very unlike me’ type questions. It does not ask for examples to your answers, or for clarification, or ask further questions to determine why you answered in the way you did- the way a mental health professional or doctor would. Often the questions are tailored so that only one or two questions are used to ‘diagnose’ a particular condition. Because of this, it is easy to manipulate a particular response, and it completly ignores and undermines the complexity of mental illnesses by chalking them up to maybe 30 yes or no questions. One time I took an online test, and came out with pretty much every disorder in the DSM V- despite the fact a lot of these illnesses you clinically couldn’t have co-morbidly (like depression and bipolar for example- depression is part of bipolar). So they’re inaccurate and very, very vague. But still, you see people with screenshots of their online quiz test results in their tumblr bios, or reeling off a list of serious mental illnesses that it later transpires, they’ve never spoken to a doctor about. Online quizzes are at best, a tool to indicate whether it is possible you are struggling with something. They never will be a replacement for the opinion of an actual medical professional.
So I think self diagnosis can be tricky. I see the advantages, but I think there’s a huge difference between relating to something and its symptoms, and seeking support for/information about that condition, and in outright telling people you have a condition you’ve never spoken to a medical professional about. Being able to identify with a label can be a source of great comfort for a lot of people, and it can be helpful in allowing you to better understand and explain your symtoms. But ultimately, a self diagnosis is…a bit pointless? Sure, you have a name of something you can relate to, but to get the proper treatment you’ll still need to see a doctor to be prescribed any mediation or to be referred to talking therapy or other services. Unless of course, you’re only interested in putting it in your insta/tumblr bio…
So that’s my two cents!
*Disclaimer: these are my thoughts, I am just a twenty something year old with a blog. What I say is not gospel, and what I think is not important in the grand scheme of things and I don’t mean to invalidate or offend anyone who thinks otherwise.