Mental Health Awareness: Is Villainizing Self-diagnosis Entirely A Good Idea?

Yesterday, I got into the trenches and cover some heavy stuff.  Life is heavy sometimes, and nothing we do will change the reality that it will, on occasion, beat us down, then kick us while we’re on the ground.  In fact, just a quick Google on “frequency of mental illness in the US” and you’ll fine the National Alliance on Mental Illness statistics page.  Among the numbers cited there, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental illness in a given year.  Given that yesterday we found that Depression was listed among the stages of Grief and loss occurs every day, as well as our tendency to live for stress and claim we thrive on cortisol and caffeine, that number doesn’t surprise me.  That still leaves four people just dandy, though.

I spent years trying to tell myself I was one of those four.

In fact, most of my childhood, I told myself I got lucky, because I wasn’t like my siblings, who inherited ADHD and dyslexia.  The first from both my parents’ lines, and the second, as I understand it, from my father’s line.  I could read at college level in middle school.  I got average grades.  True, I understood all the material after one explanation, couldn’t see the enormous pile of mess that was my locker, and had no idea what on time meant in relation to turning in assignments, but I was a “normal kid.”  I was lucky.

Don’t worry.  He’s laughing at me.  I don’t blame him.  I thought I’d somehow escaped the genetic dice roll of disorder.  Turns out I didn’t, as the results of a psychological evaluation at nineteen clearly showed.

So, what’s the point of the intro waffle?  (I love that word, thank you Englishmen.)

Self-diagnosis.  I’ve seen a few posts on the great Book of Faces villainizing the concept entirely, and with nothing coming to mind about my formerly planned topics, I figured why not.

What IS Self-diagnosis?

To severely shorten the Wiki article, self-diagnosis is the process of diagnosing oneself with a disease, disorder, or condition (yes, this can be anything from migraines to depression) based purely on individual research of readily available sources, e.g. internet sites, medical text books, old wives tales, familial symptom similarities, etc.

This practice is strongly discouraged by the medical community, yet in my mind, the wholesale disqualification of such a practice isn’t the best option.  However, nor is walking around saying you have [insert xyz condition] because you read the symptoms on the internetz.  As with anything, we need to cut through the all/nothing thinking, and get down to the real meat of the issue.

What Good Is Self-Diagnosis?

Well, firstly, a bit of research may actually get you in to see a doctor, whether of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, or another profession.

I know.  The dreaded MD.  The one with the degree who went to school, learned the jargon, and despite popular belief, may actually know something.  I know, we’ve all had negative experiences with doctors before.  Some don’t listen.  They’re overbooked, etc.  Well, that’s no good reason to stop listening to ALL doctors, as I learned this year.  In fact, I’m on two prescriptions, specifically because of what some would term self-diagnosis.

I suffer migraines.  For some reason, this past spring, they stopped being infrequent irritations, and started leveling me every two to three days.  So I spoke to an actual doctor for the first time in several years, because I couldn’t stand the pain.  I’m still taking that Ring of Sustenance every day, and so far, it’s still helping, unless the weather turns extremely crazy.  I also spoke to him before the move about ADHD medication.  After all, every doctor wants people on the stuff, right?

Actually, he specifically told me to speak to my therapist for an evaluation BEFORE he’d consider prescribing ANYTHING for it.

Thing is, without some sort of personal vetting process, I would’ve been the person walking in going, Doc, it hurts, and I don’t know what to do, help me.  (I’ll give you a little secret.  For a good doctor, that’s just as irritating as walking in saying, Doc I’ve never seen a psychologist in my life, but I know I’m trans, give me HRT.  And yes, I’m using my own personal experiences and extrapolation as reference here.)

See, doctors do enough guess work in a day.  When we don’t have any inkling at all what may be wrong, we’re making they’re job harder.  A smart doctor, in my experience, no matter the profession, appreciates an informed client.

So Why Is It Discouraged?

Because while some of us genuinely have a condition that warrants medication, unfortunately miracle-pill seekers exist.  I just spoke to an EMT (friend of a friend) who mentioned that during flu season, ambulances are called to pick up a number of people who would be better off at home imbibing large amounts of chicken soup and water, and sleeping it off.

We’ve grown up with the idea of the “miracle cure” for virtually everything, but it’s not out there.  Additionally, going back to the mental health community, the DSM and the psychological and psychiatric professions exist for a reason.  They’re not perfect, by any stretch, but they help.

The problems arise when some reads a list of symptoms on the internet, and instead of having their suspicions vetted and corroborated by a professional opinion, they simply stop at the nearest social media site with a sympathy plea post.  Fact of the matter is, mental illness and long-running mental disorders really only stick with about 1 in 25 people.

Yeah.  I said only.  Granted, I’m one of them, but I’d rather be one of the other 24.

A Rash of “Awareness”

I realize that we live in an imperfect world and that that 1 in 25 still represents a large number when extrapolated into millions or billions.  I also now know I’m one of those that makes up the statistic.  In that frame of mind, numbers in a statistics sheet suddenly have a lot more meaning.

On the other hand, I see so many campaigns for “awareness” and I wonder if they’re helping, or if we’re now starting to see the other side of the pendulum.  If “awareness” has turned mental illnesses from the outlier to the norm?  Before anyone misreads the next statement, I’m not equating the two, however it’s similar to the surveys that find people believe up to fifteen or twenty percent of the population fits into the LGBTQ umbrella.  Combine every identity under that acronym, whatever full alphabet soup it’s using now, and we’re still only about five percent of the population.

The percentage of adults who cope daily with significant impairment due to mental illness throughout life is, as far as the statistics can tell, about the same.  Yet watch the news, or just a news feed on Facebook, and it feels like a lot more.  Every day a new awareness campaign pops up.  Maybe instead of feeding our money to “awareness” we can start feeding it to resources that actually help.  Drive a struggling mom with a child in need to a therapy appointment.  Pick up groceries for a family you know instead of donating to some massive organization that you’re not entirely sure of.  That friend with anxiety that you keep inviting out?  Ask them if you can come to a one on one at their place and learn more about what triggers an attack so you can help be an anchor at the next social event.

Before I sign off, I do encourage you to learn the skill of self-awareness.  Become familiar with your own body and mind and how they work and why.  Then, if something goes wrong, you can work together with the professionals to figure out how to get back on track.  Just don’t trust the internet to be your doctor.

Sincerely,

Your friendly Internet Phoenix 😉

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