700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Your Mental Health

Mar 20, 2024
Girl looking at her laptop screen rubbing her temples

With today’s technology and social media, it is easier than ever to find and spread mental health information. The good news is this has led to more mental health awareness, and more people are willing to talk about mental health. Talking about mental health helps lower negative attitudes, judgment, and stigma, leading to more acceptance, inclusion, and understanding when others struggle with mental health problems. At the same time, more attention to mental health has also led to more instances of “self-diagnosing” a mental health disorder without confirmation or guidance from a licensed mental health clinician.

The Benefits

There is value in seeking out information about mental health diagnoses and considering how they relate to your own experience.

  • Learning about different mental health problems and how other people experience them can sometimes make it easier to pay attention to and describe your own mind, body, behaviors, stress responses, emotional state, and needs.
  • Taking time to reflect on your mental health and label your experiences can help you decide when you might need to make a change, focus on your health, or consult a professional.

In these ways, self-diagnosis can be a step toward taking responsibility for your mental health and well-being.

The Risks

Self-diagnosis can also pose more risks than benefits, especially for those using limited information from social media, peers, or unreliable sources to define their mental health. As easy as they have made it to access and share mental health information, technology and social media have also made it easier to spread misinformation and misconceptions about mental health diagnoses.

The mental health diagnoses used today are medical terms that were created to help healthcare professionals communicate efficiently about a person’s mental health “symptoms,” or behavioral signs of significant difficulties or distress. Many people do not realize that there are over 250 different mental health diagnoses spanning more than 20 categories of disorders, and each specific diagnosis can vary widely from person to person in the seriousness and pattern of symptoms, how long the problem lasts, and how it affects a person’s daily life and activities. This makes it hard to interpret mental health information on social media, where people may use diagnostic terms in ways that do not match up with how the healthcare system defines them.

When does self-diagnosis cause problems?

  • When the sole focus is the diagnostic label while ignoring mental health needs, coping strategies, and solutions
  • When diagnoses are used to excuse intentional harm toward others or to avoid taking responsibility for personal health and behavior
  • When normal human experiences and traits, cultural differences, or temporary problems are misattributed to a chronic mental health disorder
  • When self-diagnosis leads to self-medication or harmful coping strategies, such as overusing alcohol or other drugs
  • When someone who self-diagnoses with a disorder minimizes, misrepresents, or dismisses the struggles and experiences of those who are living with or in recovery from that disorder

If you are concerned about your mental health:

  • Pay attention to how stress affects you and how you are coping with your day-to-day life.
  • Talk to people you trust about your worries and stress.
  • Take care of yourself and your personal needs by eating balanced, nutritious meals, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, and engaging in meaningful activities and relationships.
  • Discuss your concerns with your primary care doctor or a mental health professional.

Remember that you are the expert of your own experience, and mental health diagnoses are just one tool to help communicate your experience to others and find coping strategies that might work for you. It is important to use caution when trying to apply mental health information you find online to your own health and well-being, and to consult a professional if you are experiencing problems that are interfering with your daily activities, relationships, life goals, or overall well-being.

If you or a loved one needs immediate support for a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide, you can chat with a trained crisis counselor, available 24/7:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call or text 988 (also available in Spanish)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Crisis Text Line: text “HOME” to 741741
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Sindhia Colburn
Sindhia Colburn, Ph.D.

Sindhia Colburn, Ph.D. is a psychologist on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Health team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.