The Need for Diagnosis

Lennea Gregg, Journalist

It may start as merely an inkling. A simple, yet dangerous, wondering. Most of us have done it, staring at health website articles concerning a strange rash or recurring headache. But why? This behavior is so unconscious sometimes that we may not even catch ourselves in the act. The sweaty palms and dry throat that comes with the delusional realization you’re a psychopath or that that freckle on your knee is melanoma. We are all guilty of licensing ourselves with PHDs and assuming the absolute worst scenario inside of our heads, playing therapist on the couch with our own minds and emotions. 


It’s a frightening and malignant hole to end up in, one full of self evaluation and wallowing in uncomfortable feelings for too long. There are benefits to worrying and wondering about these things , but convincing oneself that they are ill mentally or physically is damaging over time and takes a toll. If we suspect ourselves of disorders and diseases, we can go into panic mode and everything we think and feel is suddenly used towards our diagnosis. It becomes impossible to separate reality from fabricated fantasies generated by our overactive, anxious minds.  To cope, we may search for answers and confirmation. This is a common reaction because any information to clench our preconceived notions and beliefs is taken on immediately by our brains. Carefully considering the reasons for these responses tells us a lot about our cognitive reactions to the threat of being unwell , but we must embrace this by realizing this fear of irregularity is simply created by society and its stigmas around mental health and disorderly behaviors. 


It is  terrifying to realize how prevalent self diagnosis is in our society. It is even more alarming to realize how much information is available for self diagnoses which  fuels these even further into complete belief. Most know that our cell phones are portals for this self diagnosis wormhole, so it is important to try and open your mind to the power it holds over you. Certain applications are quite effective in listing symptoms on relatable videos and convincing our minds of absolute nonsense. One of the biggest criminals on our tiny screens is Google and its many outlets of diagnostic based websites and articles. If you ever find yourself typing symptoms into the search bar just know, you are not the first. We have all found ourselves caught up in the appealing values of self diagnosis, a validating experience, it makes us feel we are coping somehow. Even if what we believe we are coping with is made up by our anxious mind. 

When speaking to Leslie Anderson, FMHS psychology teacher, about this issue and psychological process, it was explained that we self diagnose because we overestimate our abilities to process our emotions and physical symptoms as well as identify them. When asking her about how our social constructs play into self diagnosis she gave a very insightful answer regarding behavior, “I think that mental illness specifically has become a trend in our society, I see individuals almost viewing disorders like anxiety as a club you join. When we see something massively talked about, which is good, we almost add ourselves into it.” This response is eye opening because it is much more true than we think it is, when browsing the internet and social media applications we can confirm that even depression, ocd and anxiety are ‘trending’ topics, along with celebrity buzz. 

One of the most interesting answered questions was: is some self diagnosis good? To which she answered, “I do believe that some self diagnosis is beneficial, however, to the uneducated population… very dangerous. For those that know their limits as their own doctors essentially, knowing your body and mind is good. But for those who cannot separate worrisome symptoms from actual sickness and disorder this can be taken way too far and we end up with an unhealthy habit.” To understand our limitations and capabilities in this context is one of the biggest factors to self diagnosis and it’s clear disadvantages but few advantages. 


If we could somehow learn to alter our reactions to confirming information, we may be less inclined to jump to such abrupt conclusions regarding our health and mental states. The reason self diagnosis is so easily done and accepted by our own consciousness is because we feel we are capable, and the information from unreliable sources is also capable of explaining our strange behaviors or odd stomach aches in the middle of the night. If we could learn to pinpoint our own emotional roots and causes instead of immediately assuming that we are disordered and irregular, we would be so much more at peace with ourselves. The key to all of this is to approach our worries of unwellness with the right perspective and an understanding of the triggers. We may need to seek the confirmation of a medical professional to prove the incredibility of our self diagnoses. Hearing the mere statement that we are healthy beyond our predispositions may allow our minds to be set at ease. 


When speaking with someone who deals with self diagnosis first hand, a family member, I asked her what she believed triggers self diagnosis and her response was quite simple: we notice new symptoms and pain and instead of speaking to our doctors we run to the internet to get immediate answers. She believes that the internet can give us accurate information in general, but it cannot serve as a replacement for a medical professional. “Websites such as Web MD list all possible illnesses for symptoms. These can range from a simple illness to cancer.” 

She went on to say that a person can cause themselves lots of worry if they do not have a doctor to talk with about symptoms. She admitted to using Google to look up a wide range of symptoms, pains etc. She said that she does schedule appointments with her doctor but confessed looking up pictures/articles until her actual appointment. “This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and my doctor is patient when I ask him or her several times to repeat information that does not confirm my self diagnosis from Google.” 


She was asked about an illusory correlation l, “I do think that the mind can play tricks on you and make you believe that there is more pain, pressure, etc. than is really present just because of something you read or saw. I have read an article on a certain condition or illness and then find myself looking to see if I have any matching symptoms. The imagination can make us feel things that don’t exist due to fear or stress. I try really hard now not to leap to conclusions based on the internet because it can cause so much unnecessary stress and panic.” This statement that the body can suddenly feel pain/experience symptoms physically by just hearing them described or viewing them has been scientifically researched and proven in many circumstances. When we overhear symptoms of a physical disease or even a mental disorder, especially those of us with health anxiety, we may start to evaluate ourselves closely or even develop these symptoms out of delusion and stress. Now, don’t self diagnose and jump straight to the conclusion that you are a hypochondriac, although that can be attributed to this. We all have health anxiety because we all want to be healthy. It is our innate drive for survival that urges this. 


To understand our urges to self diagnosis is very challenging. We may be able to unpack this very strange and confusing topic eventually when we accept our own faults. When we accept that we are simply humans, trying to survive the environment around us and all that it can essentially infect us with, this fear is good but it drags us down. For now, it is up to our overconfident self to humble ourselves.