By Anya Srivats
As open discussions about mental health and wellness grow in importance, there has been a significant increase in self-diagnoses of mental illnesses. How does this impact the way society views mental health, and what are the dangers that it poses.
The presence of mental illnesses, and thus the inherent danger of suicide, have risen dramatically. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have grown by 30% between 2000 and 2016, reaching an all-time high. In a report in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal, the United States’ increase in mental illness diagnoses has grown largely due to the introduction of social media, which spurs feelings of social isolation, as well as the volatile political climate of the country, which has reduced the overall feeling of safety in identity. Part of the dangers of social media stem from its fundamental design: it is a mechanism to measure just how much someone likes you.
As of 2018, the most dominant mental illness is anxiety. But along with the increase of mental illness overall is an increased access to understanding it. On one hand, social media creates a venue for communities of people to talk openly about the struggles they share. However, people have escalated such use of these communities to foster therapist-like situations. Currently, thousands of websites exist for those who are concerned about themselves to test for mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD, all varying in reliability. For example, the website Psycom diagnoses several different mental illnesses based on the teachings of Dr. Ivan Goldberg, an award-winning psychiatrist. However, there are also websites like moodpath, which test for depression based on exhibitions of common depressive symptoms over periods of time. While one site seems more reputable than the other, both tests are based on a singular and subjective judgement of behavior that is being analyzed on very unwavering symptoms. Mental illness is much more fluid and cannot be understood in a 15-minute online quiz, and the presence of self-diagnosing websites is providing a false sense of understanding.
This comfort in self-diagnosis poses multiple dangers. Websites designed to test for mental illnesses create diagnoses based on recorded symptoms and feelings. However, these diagnoses are predominantly based on common symptoms, most of which can be attributed to multiple causes. For example, not being able to sleep can be attributed to depression, insomnia, anxiety, stress, or even just mundane issues like overconsumption of caffeine. Thus, through self-diagnosing, people run the risk of diagnosing themselves with significantly less or more severe problems.
Additionally, self-diagnoses usually don’t take into consideration the various physical effects of mental illness. Mental illnesses manifest themselves through unique physical symptoms that change with each person. These effects can either be side reactions of mental disorders or the even primary issue at hand. Self-diagnosing or receiving unprofessional diagnoses could very easily lead someone to miss or disregard a serious physical problem. After all, not everyone is trained to identify and understand the correlation of the human body and psyche.
While it is easy to trust someone because you have the same experiences and can relate to the discussed issues, it is important to keep in mind that mental illness is a complex subject with several important factors. Self-diagnoses can quickly put a person at risk of being over- or under-diagnosed, neither of which is safe. If you think you might be suffering or struggling, there are several resources on campus and online that can connect you with licensed professionals.
NYU Wellness Center: (212) 443-9999
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255