Brought to you by Healthy Minds Therapy | Story by Jasmine Payne MS, LPC
A Troubling Trend: The idea that you can watch a video or read a list of symptoms & diagnose yourself with a mental disorder.
COVID-19 changed a lot of things, one of those being the use of technology. Three and a half years later, we have adopted new ways to utilize online resources. Remote and hybrid work schedules are now widely accepted. One can now see doctors or counselors virtually. It doesn’t take extensive research to learn that the use of social media and other streaming services has also increased since 2020.
The deepening implementation of technology into our daily lives, coupled with the societal shift towards mental health awareness, has resulted in a troubling trend -- the idea that you can watch a video or read a list of symptoms and diagnose yourself with a mental health disorder. Our physical healthcare providers caution us against this practice, especially Googling symptoms, lest we connect a simple dehydration headache to a rare or life-threatening illness. As a mental health provider, I warn you to apply the same level of discernment to your emotional and cognitive woes.
I assure you I am not here to rally against social media, but I am here to share some clinical indicators that your mental health could use some professional attention and some tips on how to curate your social media feed so that you are exposed to helpful insights, rather than harmful misinformation.
These are two clinical indicators that indicate you need a mental health tune up:
1. You are extremely distressed about your symptoms.
You are consistently worried, experiencing anxiety, stress, mood swings, low motivation or anger outbursts. You feel out of control or unable to engage with life as you did prior to the onset of your symptoms.
2. Your symptoms impair functioning in a major area of life.
This refers to responsibilities related to school, work, friendships, family relationships or personal hygiene.
Due to your severe fear of judgment from others, you may be socially isolating and feel lonely, but don’t know how to overcome the anxiety that is prevening you from engaging with friends.
Additionally, your low mood and lack of motivation may be keeping your from mustering the willpower to accomplish everyday, selfcare tasks like showering or brushing your teeth in the morning.
Another reason why Google or social media self-diagnosing is dangerous is because almost every diagnosis in the DSM-5 (the official medical text from which mental health disorders are cataloged) has symptoms that fall under the typical human experience. Anxiety is a great example here; anxiety is a completely healthy emotion. In fact, it’s our body’s warning system. If we did not have some level of anxiety, it would indicate we do not care about anything. Anxiety only becomes problematic when it is too intense for too long or when this warning system overreacts to things we don’t need to be protected from or concerned about.
"Perfectly healthy humans experience mood fluctuations, periodic difficulties with motivation or attention span, can get overstimulated and/or feel awkward in social situations in many instances over their lifespan. This does not mean they have a chronic mental health disorder."
There are so many things that go into diagnosing, which is why not everyone is qualified to do it. It can’t be boiled down to a checklist of symptoms. A licensed provider has the clinical insight and training to give clarity about symptoms or provide an accurate diagnosis. While mental health has become more accessible and therapy-talk has become more widespread, it is still important to consult with professionals in the field.
Google and social media are great places to start if you’re curious about things, but such sources are not the end-all, be-all of how to approach your mental healthcare. When you come across a video or list of symptoms you resonate with, seek out more information from licensed providers. There are hundreds, potentially thousands, of reputable practitioners and mental health agencies who are spreading evidence-based information online. Follow their Instagrams and Facebook profiles to learn more about all things mental health; like attachment style, boundary-setting skills and warning signs for suicide.
It can be comforting to find someone on the internet who has had a similar experience or an explanation for the emotional discomfort we have been feeling. However, it is our responsibility to use the resource of the internet to our advantage rather than to absorb and spread misinformation. I implore you to couple your curiosity about mental health with your critical-thinking skills. If a certain set of symptoms or a possible diagnosis seems to mirror your own experience, dig in, find reputable sources, do your research and approach a mental health provider with your questions before coming to a conclusion.
MEET JASMINE PAYNE
Jasmine holds her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor currently working in private practice in Fredericksburg, VA with Healthy Minds Therapy. She provides services to adults and couples via telehealth and in-person. Throughout her professional career, Jasmine has worked with clients who belong to various minority and multicultural populations. Her passion lies in assisting clients through life transitions, creating boundaries, improving self-esteem and finding meaning in their life. Currently, she holds her Level I and II Gottman Training Certifications for couple’s counseling. Couples counseling allows Jasmine to work within relational systems and teach partners how to use alternative methods of communication as well as facilitate effective conflict management.