The internet has put entire libraries of information about mental health right at our fingertips. It’s now possible to go online and learn about any mental health disorder you can name, take questionnaires looking at your symptoms, and even read the scientific literature if you feel like it.
In fact, with so much information a click away, it can be tempting to cut therapists and psychiatrists out of the process altogether. Why go to the trouble of scheduling an appointment with a professional when you can just do the job yourself?
Self-diagnosis is a dangerous path to go down, however, because it’s not likely to lead to any real answers. There are three main drawbacks to self-diagnosis:
- Having a more or less infinite supply of information doesn’t mean you have the years of training and hands-on experience that inform a diagnosis made by a professional.
- It’s hard to see yourself objectively and easy to lack insight into the workings of your own mind. Providing an outside perspective is part of what professionals do. That’s why even psychiatrists shouldn’t self-diagnose!
- From a practical standpoint, being able to self-diagnose doesn’t mean you can self-treat. After all, you can’t self-prescribe medications, and a self-diagnosis won’t give you access to any accommodations a diagnosis from a professional would legally entitle you to.
None of this means you’re powerless when it comes to your mental health, though. In fact, you can do something much more significant than self-diagnosing: you can self-refer.
Just like your general physician might listen to your symptoms and refer you to a mental health professional for a more in-depth evaluation, you can self-refer based on anything you would otherwise use to self-diagnose: things you’ve experienced, disorders you’ve read about that feel like they hit close to home, quizzes you’ve taken. All of these are useful data points to start a conversation with a professional, and this path is much more likely to lead to real answers than self-diagnosis.
There’s one other special case that falls under the category of self-referral: if you’re already seeing a mental health professional but decide it’s time to self-refer to someone else.
Over on the ADHD Millennial blog, I occasionally get comments from people with a story something like the following: after years meeting with a professional and unsuccessfully treating anxiety or depression, they saw a list of ADHD symptoms that looked awfully familiar. When they brought their concerns to their doctor, though, they were dismissed without any real evaluation. Unable to shake the feeling that an ADHD evaluation was important for moving forward, they switched doctors, ended up getting diagnosed with ADHD, and are finally starting to make progress on their other conditions too.
You can see what makes self-referral such a powerful action to take. It can create profound change in your life and set into motion a process that leads to real solutions. It can also get you unstuck from a rut if you’re already talking to a mental health professional who isn’t addressing your concerns.
In this Ask the Therapist video, Marie Hartwell-Walker and Daniel J. Tomasulo talk about how the impulse to self-diagnose can be the beginning of a path that leads to meaningful answers. Watch the video below, and see the Psych Central YouTube Channel for more videos about psychology and mental health: