Self-Diagnosing on Social Media: Why It’s a Problem
Social media is a great platform for bringing awareness to mental health problems and encouraging people to get help. But there’s a flip side too, and the dangers of self-diagnosing go beyond simple misinformation.
We use social media in all sorts of ways, including to seek out content that helps us understand ourselves better. And while there’s real power in relating to others through shared experiences, things get a bit tricky when those experiences are centered around mental health.
It’s natural to want to figure out the source of problems you might be having. Mental health discussions on social media, however, can lead to self-diagnosing—and not always based on expert (or even reliable) information. Here’s why you should be wary, plus a better approach to finding out what might be going on.
How Mental Health Became a Trending Topic on Social Media
Reducing the stigma around mental health is always a good thing. And from its earliest days, social media has been a place for people to discuss mental health and find communities of people who are dealing with similar conditions.
Mental health as consumable content, however, seems to have really taken off with apps like TikTok. There, videos offer a sense of validation that’s all too often coupled with incorrect and irresponsible information. This can lead to the spread of false narratives, providing the illusion of factual guidance without the professional experience to back it up.
The Social Surge in Self-Diagnoses
Even when it’s meant to educate, mental health content on social media is still created with the intention of getting as much engagement as possible. There’s a real incentive then to alarm or over-generalize, and that can lead to viewers self-diagnosing mental health issues based on unregulated claims.
When people participate in self-diagnosing, they convince themselves they have a certain condition based on the information they are presented with. The more they engage with that information, the more the algorithm puts it in front of them. This can lead to a cycle where viewers—many of whom are in their teens or young adult years—become increasingly confident in their self-diagnosis, even when given evidence to the contrary.
People Who Diagnose Themselves: What’s the Issue?
In a 2021 letter to the British Medical Journal, researchers noted that TikTok may have been partly responsible for the increase in teenage girls seeking out care for Tourette’s, noting that stumbling on to the site’s Tourette’s community led to a sense of belonging that reinforced and maintained perceived symptoms. The more the teens interacted with the community, the more sure they became that they had Tourette’s—and the more they presented with symptoms.
There’s a reason licensed professionals are our best guides on mental health. Some symptoms may be indicative of a mental or physical health problem that the viewer is not aware of, or lead to an individual thinking they have multiple issues when all of their symptoms can actually be traced to one thing. In either case, individuals end up following the wrong trail, which is a major barrier to getting effective help.
A Better Approach to Diagnosing
Social media can serve as an excellent launch point for seeking out care, but it should never be used as an alternative to working with a professional. Those looking for answers would be better suited using online self-assessments created by actual mental and behavioral health professionals, which, while not a means of diagnosing, can lead to data that helps guide an individual toward professional care.
Have a question about your mental health? Let’s chat. Learn about Synergy Health Programs and take the right path toward mental health treatment.