There’s no denying that with the spread of mental health awareness, there seems to be more and more people that have an understanding of what mental health is and is not. Given that this is the goal, I’d say good job to mental health activists everywhere!
Awareness is powerful because stigma dissipates when 1. we have language to explain our experiences, 2. we can do our own research and 3. better understanding fosters empathy for others – all great things!
Interestingly, with this awareness, there has seemingly come another wave along with it: self-diagnosis.
In the first year of studying Psychology at university, you often get a phenomenon called ‘psychology student syndrome’ which is when students think they have the mental illness they are studying (essentially self-diagnosis). It happens generally in the medical field also.
Often this is glossed over as just something that happens, maybe even laughed at, but I reckon anyone that starts learning more about mental illness experiences this phenomenon, not just those studying it.
So, enter mental health awareness into the equation and people might finally have access to the information about symptoms that they themselves are experiencing! They might feel seen – like they are looking into a mirror and finally see the full picture. They might experience a powerful feeling of validation.
To some this might sound like a slippery slope: “you’re no expert!” and “what about misdiagnosis?” and of course these are valid points. There are serious issues with self-diagnosis, like misdiagnosis and jumping to conclusions and at times it can even be dangerous.
But I think self-diagnosis might play a very important role in today’s world.
In reality, we live in an imperfect system: there are months of waiting lists everywhere you turn. Especially with Covid-19, the already strained mental health services have just not been able to withstand the added pressure the pandemic has caused.
But access is critical when we talk about mental health and it is lacking greatly because of the lack of resources within the mental health sector.
So really, it makes sense that people are turning to self-diagnosis. People are feeling the need to be their own advocates – because if not, they simply may not get the help that they need.
You might ask “Does someone’s experience of mental illness matter less without a diagnosis?” No. Of course not.
“So why do they need it?”
To that I ask another question: “Does it help people understand themselves better and maybe make seeking treatment more likely?”
Yes, it might – that’s why.
I’m not saying “go out and self-diagnose to your heart’s content!” that would be harmful and misleading. It takes years and years of training and studying to be an expert at diagnosis, which is an imperfect science in of itself.
But what I AM trying to say is that we should stop looking down at and judging people who try to self-diagnose. It could be out of necessity and it might even be getting them that step closer to the help that they need. Which is what we want: people getting the help that they need!