Mental Health Self-Diagnosis: Helpful or Harmful?

It’s important to practice mindfulness when it comes to our own mental health; however, with the internet at our fingertips, it’s easy to consult Dr. Google or start to believe anecdotes from friends on social media. The truth is searching for information online based on your symptoms can make you feel worse and increase your health anxiety. Although it may be easy to fall into the trap of self-diagnosing mental health conditions, one should really consult a trained mental health professional before jumping to conclusions. The American Psychological Association recognizes over 200 different mental disorders, many of which have overlapping symptoms. In addition, many physical disorders have symptoms that can be mistaken for mental illness. The bottom line is that self-diagnosis of mental disorders is not only inconsistent; it can also be harmful to your health.

So why can’t we depend on the internet for our mental health diagnoses? Mental health professionals undergo a significant degree of training to examine behavior and determine what is considered clinically normal or abnormal. Making a diagnosis is a complicated process that requires someone who is skilled at differentiating symptoms and identifying behaviors that someone with an untrained eye might miss.

“If you are close to a situation, it’s hard for you to see things from a different perspective,” said board certified psychiatrist, Kenneth Richmond, MD, FAPA. “Someone who is objective or distanced from an event can offer insights an individual too close to the matter may not see. We can ask questions that can probe or get individuals to think in a very different way.”

There are different ways a faulty mental health diagnosis can be harmful.

1) Stigma
For one, many mental health diagnoses come with a stigma that is perpetuated by certain cultures, ethnicities, and also racial groups. This can lead to isolation and rejection for those misdiagnosed as opposed to acceptance and support.

2) Physical Harm
A faulty diagnosis can take a toll on your physical health as well. Those with faulty diagnoses might not feel as compelled to manage health conditions like diabetes or even participate in regular screenings like mammograms because of their perceived condition.

3) False Sense of Empathy
Another pitfall of self-diagnosis is that it creates a false sense of empathy. For example, if you diagnose yourself with a condition like depression or anxiety without the help of a trained mental health professional, you might assume that your experience of the condition is how others should experience it. This can cause serious problems. Oftentimes, those who suffer from mental illness can experience extreme fatigue, memory difficulties, and trouble interacting in social environments. A self-diagnosed person might not experience these more serious side effects, and, in turn, assume those suffering from mental health issues might be “making it up” or overreacting.

Although it’s best to leave official diagnoses up to a trained mental health professional, being on the lookout for abnormal mental health symptoms is still a good idea. There is a difference between seeking answers regarding suspected mental health issues and coming to those answers on your own. No one should ever ignore concerning mental health symptoms. For most people, primary care clinicians are the first stop for those concerned about mental health issues. If you have questions regarding mental health symptoms, consider having an honest conversation with a primary care clinician to discuss your options and possible follow up with a behavioral health professional.

If you notice that your mental health symptoms interfere with your life, it may be time to take action and consult a mental health professional. Those with mental illness could experience:

• Social isolation
• Irritability
• Decreased sleep
• Decreased academic performance
• Poor work performance
• Difficulty concentrating

These disruptions from your normal function should not be disregarded. In addition, if you experience suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to call the 24-hour Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255). If you experience any concerning mental health symptoms, reach out to a TPMG mental health professional or your primary care clinician for help. Mental health issues, if left untreated can be extremely harmful. Find help today and start on the path towards feeling better.

Kenneth Richmond, MD, FAPA

About Kenneth Richmond, MD, FAPA

Kenneth Richmond, MD, FAPA, is a board certified psychiatrist with both inpatient and outpatient experience in the treatment and care of mental health disorders. He sees patients at TPMG – Behavioral Health in Newport News. Within the specialty of psychiatry, Dr. Richmond is an experienced practitioner providing care for various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and substance abuse disorders. In his clinical practice, Dr. Richmond finds the opportunity to interact with patients of varying backgrounds, while collaborating with other members of a patient’s care team, extremely rewarding professionally and personally.

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