Dangers of self diagnosis mental health

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis | Psychology Today

In this day and age of limited time with doctors coupled with ample opportunity to Google anything, the temptation for people to reach their own conclusions about their illness is strong. In this piece, I will describe when self-diagnosis is dangerous, and what you might know overtly about this danger. Here are a few truths to consider and how self-diagnosis affects this.

When you self-diagnose, you are essentially assuming that you know the subtleties that diagnosis constitutes. This can be very dangerous, as people who assume that they can surmise what is going on with themselves may miss the nuances of diagnosis. For example, people with mood swings often think that they have manic-depressive illness or bipolar disorder. However, mood swings are a symptom that can be a part of many different clinical scenarios: borderline personality disorder and major depression being two examples of other diagnoses. The clinician can help you discern whether you swing from normal to down or down to up, and by considering how long the mood swings last, the clinician can make the appropriate diagnosis. Here, the danger is that you may misdirect the clinician or even yourself.

One of the greatest dangers of self-diagnosis in psychological syndromes is that you may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome. Thus, if you have panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat. Even more serious is the fact that some brain tumors may present with changes in personality or psychosis or even depression. If you assume you have depression and treat it with an over-the-counter preparation, you may completely miss a medical syndrome. Even if you do not want conventional treatment for depression, you may want conventional treatment for a brain tumor.

Self-diagnosis also undermines the role of the doctor, which is not the best way to start the relationship. While doctors are generally very enthusiastic about getting packaged information, it would help if you actually trusted your doctor. If your doctor is someone whom you cannot trust, then think again about why you see this doctor. Your doctor should respect your opinion, but the discussion should be an active one. If you doubt the doctor's diagnosis, tell him or her that you do and say why. This is much better than silently diagnosing your own syndrome.

Then there is the fact that we can know and see ourselves, but sometimes, we need a mirror to see ourselves more clearly. The doctor is that mirror. By self-diagnosing, you may be missing something that you cannot see. For example, you may be overwhelmed by anxiety and think that you have an anxiety disorder. The anxiety disorder may be covering up a major depressive disorder. Approximately two-thirds of people who present to outpatient clinics with anxiety have depression as well. In general, when two or more syndromes occur in the same person, we call this comorbidity. When people self-diagnose, they often miss the comorbidity that exists.

Another danger of self-diagnosis is that you may think that there is more wrong with you than there actually is. For example, if you had insomnia, inattention, and depression, you may believe that you have a sleep disorder, ADD and major depression. However, major depression can account for all of these symptoms. Thus, you may make things worse by worrying more as well.

Self-diagnosis is also a problem when you are in a state of denial about your symptoms. You may think that you have generalized body aches that started when your mood got worse, but a doctor may elect to do an EKG for chest pain that reveals possible coronary artery disease. You may have been trying to avoid the chest pain or you may have minimized this.

Lastly, there are certain syndromes that may not seem like problems to you even though they are very disruptive to your life. For example, with delusional disorder, people do not think that they are delusional and because they are not overtly psychotic, they may not think to report paranoid symptoms that add up to delusional disorder. Also, many personality disorders are not spontaneously reported since they are usually problematic to other people.

Thus, self-diagnosis can have tremendous negative repercussions on the patient. For this reason, while reading is helpful and informative, it is always best to discuss your impressions with a doctor before you decide on the treatment you want.

Are You Really Dying? Discovering the Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

The first appointment this month was for high fever, the second for suspiciously red eyes and now your toddler has a rash spreading across their face and neck. With limited time off at your job and a high-premium health insurance plan, there’s no way you are taking her to the clinic again this month. You decide Dr. Google will suffice as you enter symptoms into your search box.

It turns out you’re not alone in turning to the internet for medical advice. The Atlantic reports that in one year, 97.5 million Americans used health websites for information. WebMD was the most popular, with 25.2 million visitors, followed by Everyday Health Network (23.4 million) and Livestrong (11. 8 million).

So what’s wrong with taking initiative through personal research? While online self-diagnosis resources seem like saviors in our moments of confused illness, healthcare professionals see dangers in this practice. Our research and conversations with health experts might make you think twice before relying on Dr. Google. Read on to learn about the dangers of self-diagnosis.

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What are the risks of self-diagnosis?

While healthcare professionals acknowledge the convenience of the internet and sympathize with the struggle of some insurance plans, here are a few dangers of depending on the World Wide Web for your health education.

Unwarranted panic

For some, it’s a simple math equation: Symptoms + internet search = you’re probably dying.

“People read about the worst possible scenario on Google when they look up their symptom. This can contribute to hysteria,” says Dana Corriel, a board-certified Primary Care Physician at Highland Medical in Pearl River, New York. “It’s human instinct to worry about worst possible outcomes. We prepare for the worst to ensure survival.”

The stress caused by assuming the worst about your symptoms before seeing a doctor can end up becoming an added detriment to your health.

Unreliable sources

“You don’t need credentials to add your two cents on the web,” Corriel says. “Anyone can write anything about any topic, especially with social media.”

Corriel has seen bad advice in response to moms asking health-related questions about their children’s ailments on Facebook. She warns of health blogs written by people unqualified to be giving advice.

“Often times, the information is too general,” Corriel explains. “Each person has a different family history, different risk factors and a varying social history, all of which contribute to the decision-making process a physician goes through when deciding on a proper diagnosis.”

The benefit of seeing a doctor is the access to trained medical experience and the personal relationship you form. The personal knowledge your doctor has about you and your medical history can’t be replaced by a website.

Unfounded nonchalance

While some of us automatically assume the worst about our symptoms, some of us will do anything to write off our symptoms as “normal” and avoid going to the doctor. Just as you can find websites telling you your chronic headache and cough are sure signs of a rare, deadly disease, you can also find articles assuring you they are merely symptoms of the common cold. Just “wait it out” for a few more months. It’s hard to avoid personal bias about your health when you seek to self-diagnose using Google.

Unnecessary treatments and testing

“While an inaccurate diagnosis can be stressful, the greater risk is that patients take the next step in attempting to treat,” says Nicole Prause, Licensed Psychologist and Neuroscience Researcher at Liberos. “This can lead to unjustified expense at the least and dangerous effects at worst.” 

Corriel also sees the financial burden of unnecessary testing with the amount of 20- and 30-year-olds now requesting MRIs because they have headaches. The undue stress takes a toll on your emotional wellbeing, and it’s expensive for the patient, the insurance company and the medical provider.

There’s also the danger of self-medicating using products with unforeseen, negative side effects. It’s best to consult your doctor about remedies you’d like to use because your provider will be able to inform you of the risks associated with these treatments, specific to your health and history.

Inability to accept professional diagnosis

We assume the most harm is done when someone outside the medical field uses the internet to self-diagnose. However, Mert Erogul, an experienced doctor at Kings County Hospital in New York, writes of his own struggle with self-diagnosis in his book, The Perils of Being Your Own Doctor. At age 44, Erogul noticed worrisome symptoms in his physical abilities including a hitch in his left leg, numbness and aching in his left arm and hand and dropping a microphone mid-lecture. Erogul’s medical knowledge assured him he had ALS.

After seeing multiple neurologists and undergoing various testing, each one concluded he did not have ALS. However, Erogul could not get past his symptoms. His unwavering fear of having ALS caused him to go through countless hours of stress, losing sleep and struggling to be present and positive in his family interactions. Only after Erogul finally accepted the experts’ diagnosis of his symptoms was he able to return to his responsibilities without the fear of ALS haunting his daily activities.

It doesn’t take a medical background to become locked in on a self-diagnosis; we can psychologically become hung up on what we believe to be true even in the face of expert opinion. This may not always come to these extremes, but even some disbelief can cause unnecessary visits to seek second opinions.

What are the alternative options to self-diagnosis?

Even after understanding the perils of self-diagnosis, you can’t get past the convenience of using the internet from the comfort of your couch. The last thing you have time for is sitting in a waiting area to be seen at the clinic.

Thanks to technology and continuous efforts to get patients the best care, there are preliminary steps you can take before getting in your car to see a doctor:

  • Patient portals: Some hospitals and clinics now offer patient portals that allow you to communicate with healthcare professionals prior to scheduling an appointment. For example, patients at Mayo Clinic can create an online account to send messages, similar to emails, to doctors and nurses regarding symptoms or health-related questions. A provider follows up with a message or phone call about next steps.
  • Nurse hotlines: Many clinics have 24-hour nurse hotlines you can call to discuss symptoms. A nurse goes through a series of questions to advise you on whether or not you need to come in to be seen.

Think twice about self-diagnosing

While this article may sound like an internet ban when it comes to your health, it’s important to know that doctors do not intend to prohibit their patients from playing an active role in healthcare.

“If you’re a critical consumer, able to identify reasonable sources of information with skepticism, then self-education can be an important part of managing healthcare,” Prause acknowledges. 

Prause says it may still be helpful in suggesting what symptoms you should mention to your provider during a visit. The key is to be cautious of the risks involved with self-diagnosis and to keep a critical eye on where you’re finding your information.

Diagnosing a patient takes the knowledge and skill of a medical professional. Your interest in understanding symptoms and what’s ailing you or your loved ones might be a sign you should consider a career in healthcare. If you’ve ever thought about working as a nurse, you’ll want to read our article, “Would I Be a Good Nurse? 10 Questions to Consider.”


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Why it is harmful to make psychological diagnoses to yourself and what to do instead

August 14 Speaker Health

Coincidence with "symptoms" from the Internet does not mean anything.

Vera Danilova

Practicing psychologist and trainer of the Bellyrelax stress management system through the body.

Every day, many psychological articles and tests are published on the Internet 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. nine0003

I am often consulted by people who are convinced that they have a psychological and sometimes a psychiatric diagnosis. 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 is 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. nine0003

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. nine0003

Ignore the totality of "symptoms"

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 symptom can indicate a variety of conditions. However, self-diagnosis is usually based on 1-2 bright signs without taking into account the rest. This approach, of course, leads to errors and misconceptions. nine0003

For example, I was consulted by a client who was convinced that he had bipolar disorder, or bipolar 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, the 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. nine0003

The client did not actually have a bipolar disorder, but because of the self-diagnosis, he was 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.

Thus, memorization 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. nine0003

On the other hand, 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.

There is no objective perception of the problem

Self-made psychological diagnosis often diverges from reality for one more 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. nine0003

Let's say that someone who complains about 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 it can harm

There will be many negative consequences.

Escape from the real problem

Quite 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” is not addressed 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, the mother of a 6-year-old boy turned to me. 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. nine0003

It turned out that the boy showed “symptoms” partially similar to those of ADHD only in the presence of his mother, and the problem lay in the area 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.

Trying to match the "diagnosis"

Some people really start to adjust their behavior to the condition 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. nine0003

Increasing anxiety

When a person collects bit by bit information from different sources, 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 the point of 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. nine0003

Misunderstanding by others

When a person has given himself a psychological diagnosis that he does not have, there may be misunderstandings 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.

More difficulties in communication appear if a person is completely immersed in thoughts about his alleged "symptoms" and, as it were, fences himself off from others.


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 pass 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. nine0003

What to do when something bothers you

It is important not to be afraid to seek professional help. 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.

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. nine0003

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The dangers of premature diagnosis The world of psychology

Psychiatric diagnosis is serious business. Done well, it can greatly help a life and sometimes save it. Completely careless, this can lead to disaster, even premature death. nine0003

I have witnessed many thousands of patients benefit greatly from psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. But I have also seen many hundreds harmed by it.

When you lose a son, due in part to a premature and misdiagnosis, it sets you on a painful and protracted search for answers. Suzanne Beachy shares her deep and heartfelt perspective. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxColumbus-Suzanne-Beachy-Wha)

Ms. Beachy writes: “I, along with a growing number of nursing mental health consumers and family members, believe that disability and loss of hope can often be exacerbated by a premature diagnosis that highlights weaknesses, ignores strengths, and predicts prognosis based on scant evidence.” nine0003

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“Going to a diagnosis of schizophrenia and starting long-term pharmaceutical treatments can turn a potentially temporary problem into a chronic one. It is said that in the not too distant past, a person reacting strangely to extreme distress had a "nervous breakdown." People who are "broken" are expected to become healthy again. Today, diagnostic names are scarier and the prognosis is expected to be much bleaker – in a way that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” nine0003

“At the age of 21, my son Jake landed in the Teaching Hospital Psychiatric Hospital because he was having a 'psychotic episode'. Although he had no prior history of mental problems, psychiatrists immediately emphasized that he had a lifelong and serious "mental disorder", with no hope of recovery. There seemed to be absolutely no interest among the staff at the possibility that his problem might be brief and temporary.”

“Only on the second day in the psychiatric hospital was he told that he probably had 'schizophrenia'. The next day, his doctors were leaning toward a diagnosis of "bipolar disorder." Why the equally discouraging "brief reactive psychosis"? It wasn't even suggested. nine0003

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“Jake was told that the stresses in his life (the potential loss of his home and his best friend, crowned on September 9th) would not bother a 'normal' person. None of the clinicians expressed a willingness to help Jake get his life back. They were all laser-targeted, on which a chronic DSM diagnosis could best 'fit' him so they could put him on a long-term drug protocol." nine0003

“At the hospital, a low dose of olanzapine helped him finally sleep at night (for the first time in weeks) and he steadily improved. But it was not enough for white coats. They insisted on immediately titrating the dose to "therapeutic levels" and adding lithium. Jake was told he needed those medications like a diabetic needs insulin. "

"Alarmed by the staff's refusal to have any dialogue about the situation, Jake and I fought for his release (AMA) and he left the hospital diagnosed with 'Psychosis, NOS'." His outpatient psychiatrist, aptly named Igor, told us that Jake's brain was "like a broken bone" and the drugs were "like a toss." nine0003

"Unlike a broken bone, however, Jake's 'broken brain' must be immobilized with 'cast' medicine for at least a year in order for his brain to heal. And although the drugs almost completely disabled Jake, and he asked to reduce the dosage, Igor refused.

“My doctor friend says that when a psychiatrist tells a young person he/she has a lifelong mental illness, hope is dashed. Saying that mental illness is like diabetes is misleading and discouraging. It's not a fair comparison." nine0003

“Diabetes is caused by a well-marked defect in a part of the body, the pancreas. Mental illness, on the other hand, literally means that your mind is sick. Your mind, unlike your pancreas, is not just a part of your body. Your mind allows you to communicate, set goals, dream and hope. If you and the people around you believe that your mind will be defective and sick for the rest of your life, you will be left with no hope of ever having an agency to build a life.”

“A pessimistic prediction of a chronic disorder has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for my son Jake. Having been told that he needed to "set more realistic goals for himself", apparently due to his "chronic mental illness", Jake abandoned his goals and decided that he might be homeless. And so he died in April 2008, two weeks after his last birthday. (Happy birthday, Jake).

“What I learned from Jake's tragedy is that psychosis, mental breakdown, walking – whatever you want to call it – should not be a self-fulfilling prophecy of permanent illness. nine0003

“We don't need to burden troubled young people with reliable nipples of chronic mental defect labels. There is a better way."

Thank you very much, Suzanne, for sharing your tragedy and grief with us. Of course, your experience will be useful for others who are faced with a similar terrible situation.

It is especially difficult to accurately diagnose young people. the track record is so short, the future course is impossible to predict, developmental factors influence the clinical picture unpredictably, and substance use is so common.0003

We must remain uncertain when it is the most accurate prediction of the future. The most common mistake in psychiatry is jumping to conclusions prematurely and misleading someone with an inaccurate diagnosis who has a terrible prognosis.

It is much safer to underestimate than to overdiagnose, and much better to encourage realistic hope than to shoot from the hip with unrealistically gloomy predictions that can become self-fulfilling prophecies. nine0003

Diagnosis most often helps, but sometimes it hurts. Susanna Beachy's loss reminds us how high the stakes are. We must be careful, do our best to make things right, and first, last and always, do no harm.

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