Mental health issues can affect anyone. A study conducted by researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that are over 792 million people lived with a mental health disorder in 2017. This translates to 10.7% or more than 1 in 10 people globally.
Of this percentage, 3.4% were diagnosed with depression; 3.8% with anxiety disorders; bipolar disorder with 0.6%; schizophrenia with 0.3%; eating disorders with 0.2%, and more. However, Our World in Data reported that mental health disorders are widely underreported, particularly at lower incomes where data is scarcer, and there are less attention and treatment for them. Aside from that, these disorders have also contributed to a significant number of deaths through suicide and self-harm.
Meta-analyses suggest that more than 90% of suicide deaths result from underlying mental and substance use disorders. Researchers revealed that 68% of suicides across China, Taiwan, and India were also attributed to the same illnesses. They suggested that a large number of suicides result from the ‘dysphoric affect’ and ‘impulsivity’. However, not everyone who’s struggling with their mental health gets to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Mental Health Foundation reported that only 1 in 8 adults or 12.1% receive mental health treatment, with 10.4% receiving medication and 3% receiving psychological therapy.
While there has been a lot of efforts in increasing the budget for mental health services and making these more accessible to people, current mental health funding levels are woefully inadequate. According to Time, global funding for development assistance for health in 2015 was estimated at $36 billion. Of that, only $110 million went toward mental health. “Invest in the system, invest in our rights. It has to happen now,” Elisha London, founder and CEO of United for Global Mental Health, emphasized.
To heal from any mental health illness, a formal diagnosis is needed. It provides a faint feeling of illness with a name that can provide us with a clear roadmap to wellness. However, many people often rely on the Internet to diagnose themselves. They usually do a quick Google search and browse WebMD or the Mayo Clinic’s Symptom checklists. They also rely on friends who have been formally diagnosed or who also diagnose themselves.
Unfortunately, self-diagnosis is extremely unreliable and poses a lot of risks and dangers.
Why Self-Diagnosing Through the Internet is Dangerous
To be diagnosed with a mental health condition, one must visit a doctor for a check-up. They need to submit to tests, answer questions, and open up to them. However, not everyone is capable of doing these, thus, they tend to self-diagnose. It is a process of diagnosing yourself or someone you know through identifying multiple symptoms that seem to match their feelings and thoughts.
A 2013 study reported that the average American consumer spends around an hour each week looking for health information online. They usually just browse casually and read up on disease prevention or general health management. But, aside from these, they also look for sites that would outline the symptoms they have, hoping to find out what they can call their particular ailment. While this process is a lot more accessible for most of us, not everything is accurate or true on the Internet.
Many false articles can mislead people in many ways. People who believe that they’re diagnosed with a specific medical or mental health condition may attempt to cure that problem. They could change their diet, take over-the-counter medications, and many more. But, if they are following tips and suggestions from a flawed assumption of what they have, they might be taking steps that they don’t need to take. Their illness can grow worse.
Experts are also concerned about how patients treat health-related information and the “doctor-patient relationship.” According to VeryWell Health, authors Susan Dorr Goold and Mark Lipkin, Jr. defined this as “the medium in which data are gathered, diagnoses and plans are made, compliance is accomplished, and healing, patient activation, and support are provided.”
However, researchers from Harvard Medical School (HMS) reported that while general-purpose symptom checkers found online are often wrong, they can also help in encouraging people to seek further medical care. “These tools may be useful in patients who are trying to decide whether they should get to a doctor quickly, but in many cases, users should be cautious and not take the information they receive from online symptom checkers as gospel,” senior author Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of health care policy and medicine at HMS and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said.
The Risks of Self-Diagnosing
It’s understandable that some people would choose the easiest and most convenient way of determining their mental health illness. They might take matters into their own hands when they feel they have no other choice to feel better. For some, it can be difficult to discuss conditions with a medical professional. For others, the wait time for appointments might be too long or they might not have enough resources or access to seek professional help. The point is that self-diagnosing has a lot of risks.
According to Psych Central, self-diagnosing can cause emotional distress, especially if the symptoms involve hallucinations, delusions, hours of intensive therapy and medication management, or substance abuse. This can result in unnecessary emotional distress that could lead to depression or anxiety, which often only encourages people to hide, isolate, and ignore the signs. The process can lead people to overlook what is really going on with them. Instead of getting the proper help you need, your real symptoms might be ignored and possibly get even worse. Moreover, this could make you worry and more confused, which could lead to unnecessary stress.
With all of the diagnoses and medical terms all around us, it is very easy for us to look up a bunch of symptoms online and receive a self-diagnosis. It’s better that we entrust the process of knowing what kind of illness we have to the medical professionals. After all, they work in the field of health and are more reliable than any symptom checklist online.