“Dear Doctor Google”

Cyberchondria and the dangerous trend of self-diagnosing mental illnesses are on the rise.

The complex process of diagnosing mental illnesses should be left to professionals.

Polina Zimmerman

The complex process of diagnosing mental illnesses should be left to professionals.

“Dr. Google, what’s wrong with me?” These types of searches are what have catapulted the dangerous trend of self-diagnosing in recent years. Whether a self-diagnosis is accurate or not, cyberchondriac habits are always risky.
Cyberchondria is a phenomenon in which excessive health concerns are fostered by repeated internet searches regarding medical information. Cases of cyberchondria have been popping up with increasing frequency in the last few years, specifically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in early 2020. With the world in isolation-mode, people were left with themselves. Everyone had the time and space to be more mindful of their habits, thoughts and feelings, generally increasing self-awareness. Additionally, the increased reliance on social media during the pandemic contributed to the phenomenon of cyberchondria.
Though it is amazing to see mental-health being discussed online. Social media is destigmatizing mental illnesses and providing those who are struggling with a sense of community. The issues lie when misinformation is spread (McGovern Medical School).
On the internet, anyone can be anything, for example, absolutely anyone can pose as a therapist, doctor, etc. and give out any information or advice they choose. This is problematic because many people don’t fact-check the information they are gathering from these self-proclaimed “mental health experts”. In fact, in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only half the people who are searching for medical information online tell their doctors about their findings.
Doctors are trained professionals that can help prevent a whole host of issues that self-diagnosing brings. Diagnosing a mental illness is a complex and individualized process and should be done by medical professionals. When you try to self-diagnose, it can actually make your mental illness worse. For example, a wrong diagnosis can heighten anxiety and may lead to incorrect treatments. It is also crucial when diagnosing, to look at the case from an outside perspective.
“If you are close to a situation, it’s hard for you to see things from a different perspective. Someone who is objective or distanced from an event can offer insights an individual too close to the matter may not see,” explained Psychiatric Specialist, Dr. Kenneth Richmond, MD.
Those with mental illnesses are often in denial or aren’t aware of many of their symptoms, making it difficult to obtain a diagnosis. Even if all symptoms are accurately accessed, a wrong diagnosis is still highly possible. The American Psychological Association recognizes over 200 unique mental illnesses, many of which have overlapping symptoms. That figure doesn’t even include the number of physical disorders with overlapping symptoms.
Faulty diagnoses come with stigmas, perpetuated by some cultures, a false sense of empathy, physical harm and can cause a patient to miss an accurate diagnosis and its treatments. This is why it’s so important for mental illness diagnoses to be done by a professional, who will provide accurate results and helpful treatment resources. No more will we be asking “Dr. Google.”

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