When you compare the ease of googling a few symptoms, versus calling the doctor, setting up an appointment, waiting a few days or weeks, and finally visiting the doctor’s office, it’s no wonder a lot of people use the web to practice self diagnosis for many health issues.

But, whether you believe that the internet has enough information for you to safely and reliably diagnose physical ailments, there can be more pitfalls in doing the same for mental health issues.

For a physical health problem, let’s say a skin rash, you may be able to observe it on yourself in much the same way a doctor would. In other words, you can be relatively objective about the issue.

But, by their nature, mental health issues can make it difficult to remain objective when self diagnosing the symptoms. That lack of objectivity can make it difficult to understand the exact causes of the symptoms.

can't get out of bed due to depressionThe Potential Dangers of Self Diagnosing Mental Health Issues

The internet and other resources can be valuable sources of information about psychological issues. But the difficulty in remaining objective when self diagnosing symptoms, and the fact that your psychological issues can be the result of circumstances that are unique to you, means you run the risk of a misdiagnosis that can have serious consequences.

Among others, here are some of the pitfalls of self diagnosing mental health issues.

1. Symptoms of a Psychological Issues May be Related to Physical Ailments –  You may read online that gastrointestinal problems are a symptom of an anxiety disorder. If you suspect that you are suffering from anxiety, you may be lead to believe that your  digestive problems are the result of your anxiety and not seek the correct medical treatment for them.

2. Confusion Due to Contrasting InformationMayoClinic.org and WebMD.com are two of the most common sources of medical and psychological information on the internet. Chances are good that, if you google many common physical or mental issues, for example “anxiety symptoms”, one or both of those sites will be among the top results of your search.

But when you look at the symptoms anxiety listed on each site, their differences can lead to confusion about how they apply to what you are experiencing. For example, WebMD lists “cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet” and the Mayo Clinic lists simply “sweating”. WebMD lists “shortness of breath” and the Mayo Clinic lists “breathing rapidly”. And many of the symptoms listed on each site are not listed on the other. And that’s just two sites, you can find hundreds more.

3. False Hope can Exacerbate Symptoms – Unfortunately, many websites understand the massive demand for online physical and mental health information. They know they can attract high numbers of visitors to their sites, and the advertising dollars that come from that, by providing content that offers potential solutions to mental health issues.

Two recent examples of this include “The Perfect Breakfast for People with Depression” and “Cardio Protects You From Depression, Says Million-Person Study”. These sorts of articles can offer good information based on scientific studies, but the headlines can offer false hope.

Yes, healthy eating and exercise may help some people manage symptoms of depression. But the idea that any of them can “protect” you from depression, or is a “perfect” option to “combat” depression can give sufferers unrealistic expectations of solving their depression. And when those expectations are not realized, their symptoms of depression may become worse.

It is important for you to learn as much as you can about any mental health issues you may have. There is no denying the value of the internet as a major source of that knowledge. But self diagnosing psychological symptoms based on that information can have negative consequences.

Before coming to any conclusions or taking any action based on online information, it is best to take what you have learned to a mental health professional who can offer objective feedback and diagnoses.

If you feel you are suffering from mental health issues, please contact BRCook and Associates for a no-obligation discussion of your symptoms.

Bruce R. Cook

I have been a practicing mental health professional for the past 26 years and I have worked in various public and private practice settings throughout the GTA and Ontario. The populations that I work with are adults 18-64 and I have extensive experience working with both individuals on various presenting problems, and also as a couples’ therapist.

I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.
Bruce R. Cook