The sad truth is that not everyone has easy access to professional help with their mental illness. Some people may lack access to mental health evaluation because of abusive relationships, shame, lack of money, or status as a dependent. But the internet is a great and powerful tool. Nowadays any Joe Schmoe can log onto a web browser and bring up professionally used mental health screening tools to essentially self-diagnose. What does this mean for modern mental health treatment?
Some critics have pointed out that self-diagnosis can lead to an accidental trivialization of ‘real’ mental illness. What if someone misrepresents those who have professionally diagnosed, or become a toxic voice in their community? What if self-diagnosis supports mental illness like hypochondria? The reality is that these cases are rare, but they do happen. Still, hypochondriacs and the attention-hungry by nature are not going to be deterred by stigma around self-diagnosis.
A really concerning danger around self-diagnosis is for the patient in question to misdiagnose themselves and be lead down a wrong path of treatment. If you believe you have a certain condition, you can easily create a self-fulfilling prophecy or believe you have symptoms you might be not having. This can convince you (and your mental health professional) that you need treatment that is not fixing your true underlying issue. For example, symptoms of ADHD can manifest as anxiety or OCD, especially in those who go long undiagnosed with ADHD.
On top of everything, most diagnostic tools and mental health screening tools are quite accurate. There’s a reason professionals rely on these tools. In randomized controlled trials of child psychiatric assessments, data shows that diagnoses and treatments carried about by professionals via telemedicine were 96% similar to diagnoses and treatments recommended for those same children after a face-to-face interview with a mental health professional. In a digital setting, a mental health assessment inventory for children generally works just as accurately as in-person.
Although mental health is nuanced for each individual case, starting someone’s understanding of their own mental health with a self-diagnosis with online healthcare tests and mental health screening tools may be a perfectly safe and empowering first step. For those who have little experience with mental health and have been discouraged to seek treatment, self-diagnosis and research can empower them to seek out the treatment they ultimately need.