Mental Illness or Normal Life Stresses? The dangers of self-diagnosing

The internet and social media come with many advantages, like information available in seconds at the tips of our fingers and the ability to connect with others. However, having access to this infinite amount of information can also have a negative side, especially when it comes to information about mental illnesses. What are the dangers of self-diagnosis? When is a mental illness an illness or simply poor mental health? Why should we be careful when researching information online? Is it really all that bad?

First, we should review the difference between a mental illness and mental health. Often, they are used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between them. Mental illness is viewed today as a disorder of thought, feeling, or behaviour that makes it more difficult for an individual to live with the demands of everyday life. There are different types of mental ill- nesses, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. On the other hand, mental health relates to our mental well-being; to our emotions and functioning, and is something we all need to maintain. It also relates to how we deal with stresses of everyday life. Someone may have poor mental health but not a mental illness, and someone may have a mental ill- ness but have good mental health if they are functioning well in their daily life despite their diagnosis and symptoms.

A person might find themselves experiencing certain symptoms, unsure if they are experiencing a period of bad mental health or an actual mental illness. They then decide to conduct research online. They are bombarded with what seems to be an endless number of resources. Which one is good, which one is bad? Which one is truly reliable? While research may be good for preliminary and basic information, there is the risk of coming across incorrect information especially when it comes to health. There might be specific nuances to illnesses that can be easy to misinterpret or misunderstand. Some sites have unreliable data or false information which can lead someone to believe some- thing that is not true or even dangerous. If someone takes in unreliable information and self-diagnoses themselves, it can have negative consequences, especially if they try to follow a course of treatment without the supervision of a health professional.

A prime example of the negative side of self-diagnosis can be seen on TikTok. Dr. Adeola Adelayo, psychiatrist at the Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Arizona, has expressed her concern with teens and young adults self-diagnosing themselves with different disorders like ADHD, OCD, dissociative identity disorder, autism, and Tourette syndrome. In the article “TikTok and the Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders” published in 2021 on the clinic’s blog, Dr. Adelayo explained there was an increase in Tourette-like tics in her clinic, and that they were all linked with videos on TikTok of individuals with Tourette’s. After two weeks of individualized plans and removing their access to TikTok, the individuals who were initially admitted to the clinic for the Tourette’s symptoms no longer showed symptoms and the tics they initially had were gone. Dr. Adelayo explained that it is not that the individuals are pretending to have Tourette’s, but that instead they may have anxiety or depression that has gone undiagnosed. She says that after seeing enough of these types of videos, a person can start to relate to the symptoms and can come to develop some even if they don’t have the illness. This demonstrates the power online information can have on an individual.

There are some positives to looking up information online to understand your symptoms and experiences. It can provide an individual with the sense of hope if they can find descriptions of symptoms that match what they are experiencing. Being able to find a name to what they are feeling can bring a sense of relief that it exists, that they are not imagining things. Social media can provide comfort to someone who connects with others online who are going through similar experiences. Doing some research on your symptoms and specific experiences can be a good way to describe your worries to your doctor or health professional. It can help orient your concerns and start you on a treatment path if your healthcare provider finds one that could be beneficial for you.

If you do research online, make sure it comes from a reliable source, such as a government website, a community organization, or a clinic’s website.

If you aren’t sure if you have a mental illness or are struggling with your mental health, you can find help by visiting or you can call Info-Social by dialling 811.

– Gabrielle Lesage

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