Why self-diagnosis is harmful and what to do instead

Vera Danilova

Practicing psychologist and coach of the Bellyrelax body stress management system.

Every day, many psychological articles and tests are published on the network that describe the signs and “symptoms” of various conditions, as well as mental disorders. And although the very interest of people in their psychological well-being is important and encouraging, it is easy to get confused in such a flow of information.

People who are convinced that they have a psychological and sometimes a psychiatric diagnosis often turn to me for advice. Most often they put it on their own based on articles on the Internet, and the conclusions rarely correspond to the real state of affairs.

Let’s try to figure out how such self-diagnosis can harm.

What’s wrong with self-diagnosis

Usually, the lack of scientific, professional knowledge distorts the perception of what is happening. And most importantly, self-diagnosis does not help to solve a difficult situation and get rid of a “symptom” that torments a person.

Complex psychological phenomena are greatly simplified

Non-specialists tend to reduce complex problems and conditions to simple and narrow definitions. This makes complex terms and situations easier to understand, but can be confusing and lead to incorrect conclusions.

For example, there is a common belief that depression is something like a sad mood. But sadness after watching a tragic movie cannot be attributed to manifestations of depression. The essence of the disease is much broader: it has different causes, types and manifestations. And only a specialist can deal with them.

The totality of “symptoms” is not taken into account

It is important to note that in this article the term “symptom” has no medical meaning, but is used to briefly describe psychological manifestations.

To make a correct psychological diagnosis, it is necessary to take into account the whole complex of “symptoms”, because the same sign can indicate a variety of conditions. However, self-diagnosis is usually carried out on the basis of 1-2 bright signs without taking into account the rest. This approach, of course, leads to errors and misconceptions.

For example, a client came to me for advice who was convinced that he was suffering from bipolar disorder, or bipolar affective disorder. The young man made a conclusion based on only one item from an article about this disorder – a change in mood from sadness and apathy to enthusiasm.

But with BAD, mood doesn’t just change. A person with this disorder experiences long periods of deep emotional states ranging from a week to two years. In addition, there are a number of other symptoms that help identify the disease.

The client did not actually have a bipolar disorder, but the self-diagnosis made him very distressed and often depressed.

The characteristic of “symptoms” is not taken into account

Not only the “symptom” itself is important, but also the situations in which it occurs, as well as other indicators. For example, the duration of the phenomenon, its spread to all spheres of life. And there are a lot of such details, which is why only a specialist can fully understand all this diversity.

So, memory difficulties appear for various reasons. If a person works a lot and sleeps little in the last week, his perceptual systems are overloaded. The brain does not have time to process information. Rest, sleep and recovery will help here.

But when a person sleeps enough, and memory deteriorates gradually and for a long time, other “symptoms” need to be analyzed. If absent-mindedness and thought disorders are also present, brain problems can be suspected and the person referred to a neurologist.

No objective perception of the problem

A self-made psychological diagnosis often diverges from reality for another reason: a person cannot see the whole situation. Perception is subjective, it is influenced by factors such as lack of information, lack of a clear goal of observation, psychological defenses.

For example, someone who complains of irritability may not notice that he reacts this way only in a certain situation – when communicating with colleagues. But since communication with them takes up most of the day, a person may consider himself irritable in general. And again, make psychological diagnoses based on this “symptom”. Although, perhaps, it was in an unpleasant team.

How can it hurt

There will be many negative consequences.

Avoiding the real problem

Often, self-diagnosis performs a protective function in some way and helps to focus not on the key difficulty, but on the “symptom” itself. In such situations, people often say to themselves: “now it’s clear why it’s bad, but what can you do – such a state.”

This happens when the main problem that caused the “symptom” does not want to be solved for some reason. For example, it may be psychologically painful for a person or it may be difficult to even think about the source of their difficulties.

Unfortunately, such an escape is a big illusion. An unresolved problem will constantly remind of itself and manifest itself in another place, whatever you call it.

So, I was approached by the mother of a 6-year-old boy. She was convinced that her son had ADHD , or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Such a diagnosis can only be made by a psychiatrist or neurologist. Several doctors examined the boy and concluded that he was healthy. But the mother of the child trusted the material read on the Internet more.

It turned out that the “symptoms”, partially similar to the manifestations of ADHD, the boy showed only in the presence of his mother, and the problem lay in the field of relationships within the family. At that time, it was more difficult for the client to admit this and start changing the situation than to convince herself that something was wrong with the child.

Attempts to match the “diagnosis”

Some people really start to adjust their behavior to the state described on the Internet. Although the psychological diagnosis was made on the basis of one “symptom”, the person comes to the conclusion that everything read is true, which means that it must be consistent. This is how auto-suggestion works: in essence, people convince themselves. Unfortunately, this behavior makes things worse. If only because it leads away from the real problem.

Growing anxiety

When a person collects information bit by bit from different sources, the information is often intertwined, and the described states are mixed with one another. This can lead to confusion and great anxiety .

In addition to worries about “symptoms”, there is also anxiety about one’s mental state in general. This situation does not at all help to solve the root cause, because of which a person began to search for information on the Internet.

So, at the age of 17, I suffered from a developed imagination and anxiety, which sometimes reached panic. I read a lot of information on the Internet and decided that I have schizophrenia . Of course, at that time I was not yet a psychologist and the necessary knowledge was clearly not enough. It’s good that I decided to turn to a specialist and was able to figure it out: I found out that I don’t have schizophrenia, I solved my anxiety problems and learned to control my imagination.

Misunderstanding by others

When a person has made a psychological diagnosis for himself, which he does not have, misunderstandings may arise in communication with others. First of all, with people who really suffer from such a problem, and those who know what this condition looks like.

Difficulties in communication also appear if a person is completely immersed in thoughts about his alleged “symptoms” and, as it were, fenced off from others.

Unjustified actions

Some people not only make psychological diagnoses based on what they read on the Internet, but also make serious decisions. This may be reckless.

For example, an article titled “30 signs it’s time to end a relationship” is not a reason to make a psychological judgment on a relationship, even if the couple is at a difficult stage. It is necessary to take into account the individual characteristics of the situation, perhaps seek advice from a family psychologist and remember that crises in relationships are normal, and each of them is a possible point of growth.

What to do when something worries

It is important not to be afraid to seek help from a specialist . So it will be possible to avoid the negative consequences of self-diagnosis, and also save time and effort. A competent psychologist or psychotherapist will help you understand the situation, explain what the “symptoms” are connected with and tell you how to deal with their cause.

And although going to an appointment can be exciting, believe me – today the choice of specialists is huge. It may not be possible to find “your” psychologist or psychotherapist the first time, but it’s definitely worth looking for.

Read also 🧐

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.