We live in a world with a wealth of information at our fingertips. We can find the symptoms to nearly any condition, and – in theory – figure out what we’re struggling with in order to gain a better understanding of ourselves and our mental health.
But “in theory” is not what often happens. Internet searches for mental health have the potential to lead someone into making a bad or incorrect decision, and a diagnosis – while a useful tool – is also a limiting word that doesn’t always encompass all that a person struggles with, or correctly identifies whether something qualifies as a mental health challenge.
Clinicians are trained using a mental health manual called the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” or the “DSM” (in this case, the DSM-V, for the 5th version of the manual). This manual provides a way to determine if someone has a mental health challenge and the name of that challenge – for example, major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety.
But as psychotherapists, we are trained to do more than just read the words on the manual. Anyone can do that, and it is not particularly valuable. What we look for are the meaning, feelings, and experiences behind the words. We ask questions that help us better understand each person, so that we can look at a phrase on the manual and know how to see it in someone else whether or not they see it in themselves.
What Happens When We Self-Diagnose?
It’s one thing to say “I have depression.” It is quite another to understand how your depression manifests, whether or not it is due to something (such as a trauma) or if it is a persistent struggle. It doesn’t tell you how it developed, what symptoms you have are depression or are normal life circumstances, or whether or not it is a type of depression you may not be as familiar with (such as “cyclothymia”), and more.
We can see this with issues like ADHD, which many people diagnose in themselves to explain normal problems with focus that affect everyone – a problem that has only become worse with TikTok. We also see the effects of even a correct self-diagnosis, such as seeking out ineffective treatments, misunderstanding their own symptoms, or embracing it as part of their identity.
Trust Mental Health Professionals
Anyone *can* self-diagnose. But that doesn’t mean it is accurate. You wouldn’t avoid a medical doctor for an emergency because of what you read on WebMD, and it is not a good idea to avoid a psychologist because of what you read online. Mental health is more complex than even our diagnostic manuals make them sound, and even with a theoretically correct diagnosis, the way that the condition affects you is often far more complicated than it seems.
If you feel like you may have a mental health disorder, contact Long Island Psychology. We understand how to apply the criteria to your personal circumstances and provide a real, accurate diagnosis.