One caveat about the intricacies of self-diagnosis is a much-quoted statement by William Gibson: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.
Another is about suggestibility, anxieties, and not knowing nearly enough and is perhaps exemplified by what’s commonly known as psychology student syndrome or medical student syndrome. One no sooner learns about a specific diagnosis and boom, “that’s me!” This can happen often and usually inaccurately to the same student over and over again.
If you find yourself continually engaged in self-diagnosis of significant issues, whether you’re the above student or not, there’s another name for the condition you may have: hypochondria—which ironically is one of those actual diagnoses you might fail to consider.
In a Psychology Today post, psychiatrist Srini Pillay offers more reasons self-diagnosis of psychological problems is “dangerous.” Here are just a few (which may overlap with the above):
- There are many nuances to diagnosis that might be missed
- Various unknown health/medical problems could be behind psychological symptoms
- We can’t always perceive ourselves objectively or accurately
- There can be a tendency to exaggerate how our symptoms manifest
The types of mental disorders one can incorrectly self-diagnose are numerous and include (but aren’t limited to) depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, personality disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictions. If you “give yourself” any of these, what next? Will you also self-treat? Won’t your problems get worse in the meantime and/or lead to further issues?
Fact is, though, even if you do intend to consult a professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment, finding out more about yourself and your symptoms before getting there is actually a fine idea as well.
(Surprised I went there?)
(I’m not even going to talk about the possibility that we official diagnosers can also get it wrong.)
Depending on whether you can handle it, that is. It’s important to keep a perspective that includes the warnings previously cited in this post as well as to consider the following…
The whole internet-search issue. If you’re particularly careful when taking this route, you can keep your anxiety from going off the charts. Consider reputable resources such as Psychology Today and Psych Central, which are loaded with good tests and quizzes. Psychology Today even offers a Mental Health Assessment tool to help you decide if you should seek therapy.
Self-knowledge can certainly be a good thing. Any worthwhile therapist or clinician will respect that you wanted to learn more about yourself and your symptoms—and then will work with you to further figure stuff out.