- “You’re not really sick.”
- “You’re just a kid, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
- “You just want attention.”
Even on a post of my own I was accused of being “one of those self-diagnosers” who “[doesn’t] know better than doctors.” It was a little infuriating, and I’ll admit to being ticked off for a few hours afterwards, for a number of reasons. One of which is the truly naive assumption that self-diagnosers don’t know what they are talking about.
What is Self-Diagnosis?
There’s several ways to go about doing it. Some are good, some are bad, some are downright unhealthy. I’m sure we’ve all at least heard of the experience of going to Web MD and diagnosing ourselves with pneumonia, Ebola, and six forms of cancer. But the correct method of self-diagnosis is a balanced process of self-examination, self-identification, and applying a label that while sticky, is not necessarily 100% accurate.
“But Carly,” you might say. “Why not just go to a doctor and find out for sure what’s wrong with you there?”
There’s a variety of reasons for this, ranging from unsupportive family situations to lack of financial resources. But the number one reason is simply this:
- When did you or anyone you know last go to a mental healthcare professional for a checkup?
- When does anyone see a mental healthcare professional if they or someone else hasn’t diagnosed them even with just the idea that “something is wrong?”
Self-diagnosis is a vital intermediate step in getting treated for mental health issues, because nobody treats their mental health unless they already think something about it isn’t right.
It's Not Easy: Assumptions Get In the Way of Getting Help
Any of you that can remember being or have raised a teen will know that. But at the same time, these factors make it exceedingly hard to be taken seriously when you need help. “I have depression,” or “I have an anxiety disorder” are things that are easy to brush off when spoken from the undiagnosed mouth of a child.
What makes it extra difficult is that even if the teen does manage to get someone to take them to a doctor - naturally it’s not as though they can take themselves - they are often not taken seriously there either. I have been diagnosed professionally since I was seven years old, and even as a grown woman I still encounter mental health professionals who assume they know more about my diagnoses than I do.
I’ve been asked point-blank to my face, with my file in the man’s lap, “Why do you THINK you have Tourette’s syndrome?” I did not keep the doctor for very long. How much more difficult is this for a child who hasn’t been seriously listened to by anyone along the way?
Listening To and Expressing Self-Diagnosis Is Key
I looked at myself and said “this is wrong,” and my mother listened.
At no point did the process devolve into:
- shame (”why are you doing this”)
- accusations (”you just want attention”)
- belittling (”you don’t even know what you’re talking about”).
I went to the people in my life who were supposed to help me, and they did, without question. It was self-diagnosis in third grade.
I hope one day help for mental illnesses can be as respected and as easily acquired.