How many of us would confess to Googling our symptoms at the first sign of feeling out of sorts? Probably most of us, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s part of human nature to want an explanation for things we don’t understand, especially when it comes to our wellbeing.
In most cases, any search results should be approached with caution. Jumping to the conclusion that you have a brain tumour after entering ‘why does my head hurt?’ is never a good idea, and neither is concluding that you have depression from the results of searching ‘Why do I cry so often?’
Whilst it is advised to take the findings from these searches with a pinch of salt, there can be times when using internet research to self-diagnose is not a bad thing, particularly when it comes to mental health.
The reality is that getting a professional diagnosis for a mental health problem is a long and difficult process, and it isn’t uncommon for years to pass by before receiving one. First of all, it takes an exceptional amount of courage to accept that seeking help and confirmation is the right thing to do, and this itself can be a long process of self-discovery.
But the biggest step is only the first of many. Next there is the waiting time to see a GP, then you must only hope that you see a GP who has a good enough understanding of mental health to recognise you need a referral. After this begins the wait until your meeting with a psychiatrist, and even by then it is not always guaranteed that you will find someone with whom you feel comfortable, and who you feel can make an executive decision.
This road to mental health diagnosis can be distressing, exhausting, and frustrating.
Therefore, seeking out self-diagnosis can be an appropriate solution. Of course, this isn’t a quick or easy process, and simply Googling some symptoms and taking an online quiz is not enough to conclude a diagnosis. But, if an individual takes the time to read the official criteria, and has a profound understanding of their own experiences then it is possible, and this needs to be accepted.
Self-diagnosis can open up opportunities for conversation. It creates a chance for those who feel marginalised by their conditions to speak up and ask for help, a chance they might not have had if they were forced to wait for a professional diagnosis.
The stigma around mental health is profound enough without the added judgement of not believing someone’s own diagnosis. By judging those who speak up about their self-diagnosis, it reduces the conversations that we have about mental health to even less than they already are. It discourages people from reaching out to get the support they need and can hinder the beginning of someone’s journey to treatment.
It is wrong to assume that someone cannot truly have a mental illness unless they have been professionally diagnosed. It is a demeaning and backwards viewpoint that refuses to account for lengthy NHS waiting times, and the turmoil that can be understanding mental health. This is my body, my brain and my mind, and I believe I understand it more than any professional ever will.
[Image – Josh Green]