As with all of my mental health posts I want to preface this with, I am not a mental health professional. My mental health posts are based on my own personal experience. I am happy to share that experience and I hope it helps people. However no blog is a replacement for real work with someone qualified to help you. If you are struggling please seek help. Talking about our problems together is a great tool, but cannot be the only one in our inventory.
Living in the world of webMD, tumblr, google, and everything else I believe it is now so important to make sure we are seeking professional help and getting proper diagnosis. Not just for mental health but all health. It’s too easy for us to do some quick reading online and say “I have x”, and leave it at that. Now, I am not saying there is nothing helpful about self research (in fact I will expand on that more soon), but that research cannot be the only thing we do.
Mental health issues are tricky because they don’t have “normal” symptoms. Depression for instance presents many different ways for many different people. Not only that but does apathy really seem like a symptom? Yet it can be. We are a world obsessed with mental health. More people are realizing they have mental health issues, and those issues are taking drastic tolls that we might not have seen as often in the past. The good news about this is people that were often ignored are now being listened to, the bad news… everyone wants to say they have a certain mental illness. I don’t want to harp too much on the issue of fake mental illnesses, but rather on the idea of self diagnosis and the danger of it.
With a physical illness we have an innate ability to see the problematic nature of self diagnosis. If you have persistent headaches, fish for information on the net, and then self diagnose that you are going to die you will seek medical help (hopefully). If you are feeling stressed, upset, angry, uncomfortable, or just “not right” you might self diagnose a mental illness and then say, “Okay, I am just going to move forward”. It’s not technically something life threatening (though it can be), so we think we can handle it and move on. Yet we ignore that we’ve still decided for ourselves that we have a very real problem.
This is not good.
There has been a much stronger acknowledgment lately that mental health issues are real health issues, therefor we need to treat them as such. Googling them and then saying I have ___ is not good enough. We need to seek out help, we need to make sure we do have what we think we do, and then we need to make sure we are getting the help we need. Self diagnosis is dangerous. It means we might not have the proper tools to function in society like we should. It means we might not have the right perspective of how, or why, we have these problems. It means we might not know how capable we are of having a normal healthy life. It might also mean we might lose the battle to these problems.
As I said before I was going to say self research can be helpful, and I stand by that. It should never be your final step. You should research, think critically, then seek out professional help. That being said research can be very helpful. For the longest time many of my problems weren’t being diagnosed because I did not realize they were problems. I suffer from panic attacks. Not some cute romanticized version of them, but full blown I can’t breath, hear, see, I think I am dying panic attacks. For the longest time I never discussed them with a doctor because I thought they were normal. It was always my response to certain situations, and other people expressed getting very nervous or stressed out so I assumed it was the same. Just like I assumed my suicidal thoughts were what normal people had when they got upset. I assumed my self-hatred was how everyone dealt with their own problems.
Online research actually did help me to realize that no, these things were not normal, and in fact unhealthy and frankly horrible. It gave me talking points for the next time I sought out help. THIS is what online research is good for. Self diagnosis with no follow up is not. Use online research as a tool. Find symptoms and talking points. If you think you might have depression find out what other depression sufferers face so you can frame questions about symptoms.
However, do not allow yourself to shape your questions/symptoms/talking points to the illness you THINK you have. It’s another way we self diagnosis maybe without meaning to. I often presented what I later found were problems with anxiety in a way to guide people to say, “Oh, you suffer from depression”. It can be as dangerous and harmful so be mindful of this.
Lastly go in for follow ups. So often we hear “you have ___” and accept it. Mental illness has a lot of ebb and flow that maybe more “traditional” physical illnesses do not. Always do follow ups and always keep lines of communication open. If you feel you are presenting new symptoms talk to someone. Maybe a mental illness you always had has just started presenting in a new way as your life changes. Maybe something that was not diagnosed before is showing stronger symptoms. You can’t know unless you are being properly diagnosed.
There is a harsh truth that our knowledge of mental illnesses is still lacking. Your doctors might get it wrong sometimes. It’s not because they don’t care, don’t know, or that we are better off alone. It’s that the field of mental health is in flux, and as a bi-product we suffer negative consequences from time to time. Keep at it. You want to be healthy, and if you find a good doctor (which finding one is another important point) they want you to be too.
So in short do not self diagnose, use online research as a tool not an answer, and make sure you are getting the proper help you need. Mental health issues are in fact real, it does indeed change the way we think and interact with the world, but it does not have to stop or control us.