Know Thyself(-diagnosis)

| January 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

The first time I read about ADHD, I was fourteen years old and somewhere in the middle of a Wikipedia spiral that started with an article about the Battle of Bunker Hill and ended with one about Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko.

I didn’t actually think much of it at the time of discovery, surprisingly. I don’t think I even finished reading the article. There was more procrastinating to be done, so I clicked on the link for the World Health Organization on the page and continued my spiral from there. It was a couple of years later that I stumbled upon a post about it on Tumblr, looked at it, and went “oh, that sounds familiar.”

As more and more people start to read up on and see themselves in descriptions of mental illnesses and disorders, issues have been raised about how people should interact with this information. In particular, many articles have been cropping up about the dangers of self-diagnosis.

photo credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Clever Cogs! via photopin (license)

photo credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Clever Cogs! via photopin (license)

The term self-diagnosis means pretty much what the name implies: a diagnosis made by one’s self. “Self-DXing”, as it’s referred to on the internet, has been received by individuals on a widely varying basis. Many people warn against it, but many others are for it. The question is: why? What are the pros and cons?

Those who are against it raise two major concerns about self-dxing. The first is that it can convince people that they have problems they don’t have, and the second is that people can try to take their treatment into their own hands, forgoing professional help. These are definitely legitimate concerns. A lot of mental health issues can look a lot like each other symptom-wise. Other symptoms could be a sign of one disorder, or could fall under the umbrella of another (like insomnia, which can be both its own disorder, or a symptom of depression). It’s hard to work out what’s its own problem and what’s an offshoot of another, especially if you’re not a mental health professional. And I’m sure that there are some people out there who do simply look at a Web-MD article, go “that sounds like me,” and try to handle things on their own.

But, for what I’m assuming to be the majority of people, self-diagnosis is a tool. Looking at an article about a disorder and saying “hey, I could have this,” isn’t the end of this magical journey of mental health discovery. I didn’t just look at an article about ADHD, take a look at the symptoms, and decide that I had it. My immediate thought after realizing that I identify with the description of the disorder was “alright, now how do I get checked out for this?”

Unsurprisingly, most people who have mental health issues want help managing their symptoms. Those who don’t get professional help immediately do so for a wide variety of reasons, the most common being an inability to pay for a psychologist or psychiatrist (those appointments are expensive) or because they’re in an environment where they can’t get help right now (like living with parents who don’t “believe” in disorders). Google can be an extremely invaluable resource during times like those. There’s a plethora of information online about how to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and overall just make it through day-to-day life while professional help and diagnosis is pending.

I think it’s always important to think critically about the information you read online. But I also firmly believe that a Wikipedia article or Reddit thread can point you in the right direction. Self-diagnosis can be a valuable tool in improving the lives of many people, as long as used as just that: a tool to kick things off.

featured photo credit: Jeanne Menj half ecologist’s brain via photopin (license)

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Isabella Amorim

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Isabella "Izzy" Amorim's hobbies include writing for Culture Shock, spending inordinate amounts of time in BU dining halls, and purchasing children's tickets at movie theaters with her baby face. Play the system, kids.

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