Self-diagnosis on social media damaging perceptions of mental health – The Oberlin Review

As you aimlessly scroll through social media, a video pops up saying, “5 signs you have ADHD.” Rapid loss of concentration, loss of track of time, mood swings, difficulty listening, being extremely talkative, losing things easily, or being disorganized – every sign seems to point to you and what you’ve been struggling with. You might feel like you are finally understood and seen. Your struggle has this new name and you feel like you’ve finally found the solution, the solution to what you’ve been feeling for so long. Your feelings finally belong somewhere.

Videos like these have flooded social media platforms. I bet you’ve seen a couple. Discussion topics range from anxiety, personality and mood disorders to disabilities like autism and ADHD. The videos usually consist of an explanation of “signs” that someone might have a particular condition, but often these so-called “signs” consist of behaviors that anyone can experience. People take this information, relate to it, and begin to believe they have the disease they hear about. A disturbing tendency to self-diagnose seems to have taken off in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many people. This shared experience has opened up more discussions about mental health, especially on social media, and efforts to de-stigmatize mental health struggles have intensified. According to a note from the World Health Organization, there was a 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression in the first year of the pandemic. When people were left alone, they started noticing things about themselves that hadn’t been obvious before. People have been forced to look at their own behaviors, patterns, thoughts, and interactions with others in ways they didn’t have before. As one of the only means of communication available at the time, social media became a tool for people to feel seen and recognized. Mental health became a central focus and since then online mental health communities have been created to open up conversations for people in difficulty and provide a space for them to share their experiences.

The mental health destigmatization movement was created to help those who have struggled alone with their mental illness feel seen. After centuries of mental illness seen as something wrong with someone, people finally feel accepted despite their struggles. It is possible, however, that we have reached the point where this phenomenon is doing more harm than good. There’s been what almost seems like a romanticization of mental illness – people have started tossing around tricky terms and diagnoses as if they’re traits you can easily attribute to yourself. The thing is, it’s not just character traits. We are dealing with intense human struggles that have been ignored for too long.

There has been a sea change in the way mental illnesses are portrayed on social media. We have gone beyond sharing personal experiences to help build a human connection in which someone can feel less alone. Now people have decided to act like professionals and offer easy answers to people’s complex questions about mental health and disability, some even trying to provide diagnoses. The majority of mental illness videos you see on social media are not created by professional psychologists. Some psychologists offer information about different mental illnesses online, but what they offer is education on the subject, not diagnosis. There is a very big difference between feeling anxious or depressed and being clinically diagnosed as anxious or depressed. As any psychologist would tell you, this distinction is very important, but in the world of social media, these lines have blurred. It’s possible that the destigmatization of mental illness has been hijacked by social media, and in turn we’ve been driven to make those struggling with a clinical diagnosis feel invisible again, but in a way different.

You don’t have to have a clinical diagnosis or a serious mental health condition to know that when you’re in such pain, you yearn for the world to tell you that you’re seen. In the past, this need was crushed because you were faced with the burden of a world that said, “Keep your mental illness hidden. While it’s true that in today’s society that voice has faded somewhat, what we need to understand is that we haven’t gone from “keep it hidden” to “I see “. Instead, the source of the feeling of invisibility changed from a feeling of silence to a feeling of minimization, like being in a crowd where everyone was chanting “welcome to the club”.

That doesn’t mean you don’t suffer if you’ve been feeling anxious or depressed. As humans, we experience these feelings, and they are very difficult to deal with. It’s not about minimizing the pain; it’s about how social media tempts us and invites us to express that pain in a way that equates it with a different kind of pain, minimizing the pain of those who constantly struggle with mental health issues .

To all students reading this, we have an important role. As young adults who have grown up with social media, we sit in the eye of this great storm. We discover so much of ourselves in the midst of vast amounts of academic and social pressure. In one way or another, we all face our own important struggles, but we are tempted to displace those struggles to feel seen. Social media has taught us to fight for the spotlight, but that’s not the world we want. Being the most affected by this phenomenon, we are on the front line. We have the chance to reset our approach to each other’s struggles and help us all feel seen without blurring the lines between self-diagnosis and clinical diagnosis to feel valid. We can create a world where, instead of competing to be seen, we can be the ones who assure each other, “you are seen.”

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