THE STIGMA AROUND SELF-DIAGNOSING


There is a stigma which surrounds mental illness which we are all too aware of. Despite online movements over the last few years which have got as all Talking About It, the lack of understanding which still surrounds so many areas of mental health means that often, sufferers are not taken seriously. There is a further stigma, however, within the world of mental health, which less of us are talking about. This is the issue of self-diagnosis.

I'll be honest - I can see self-diagnosis from both sides, the positive and the negative. I firmly believe that each of us knows our own minds and our own bodies. You are the only person who has the pleasure of spending 24 hours a day in your own head and so nobody knows the ins and outs of your brain more than you do. On this level, I can understand people who self-diagnose. I knew that I was suffering from anxiety for years before I sought a professional opinion. When you're having to deal with the daily struggle of a mind which refuses to cooperate with you, you know that something isn't right.

Of course, there is the issue that many people will misdiagnose themselves. The problem with this is that it trivialises mental illness, and makes it even harder for those who really do suffer to be taken seriously. Maybe you're feeling sad because you don't like your job. Maybe you're feeling scared because you're about to go on a plane. These are two completely valid feelings, however, they don't necessarily equate to depression or anxiety. Self-diagnosing yourself based on periods of your life where you feel down is damaging for everyone involved.

I can completely understand the fear that comes with the prospect of seeking help from your GP. Talking to a professional about mental health can feel like one of the scariest things to put yourself through, especially when your brain is working against you, instructing you to feel scared and as though you don't deserve help. Maybe you feel like your problem isn't real or valid enough to seek help? Or that it'd just be easier to go with your gut and self-diagnose?

In this respect, I completely disagree with the idea that anyone self-diagnosed isn't actually suffering. Self-diagnosis is basically self-acceptance and is the first step to recovery. But, it must be followed up by a professional diagnosis. Without it, how can you expect to get the help which your body deserves? You wouldn't break your leg and then think to yourself "well, that's a broken leg. Anyway, on with my life." You'd think to yourself "holy shit my leg is definitely broken, but I'd better get myself to a professional real quick so they can offer me the help I need." First step: self acceptance, second step: professional diagnosis, third step: professional care. I realise that it's much more simple on paper than in reality, but these are key steps to recovery and happiness.

Think of your mental illness in the same way that you would think of any other bodily ailment. If anything, think of it as more important to get professional care for. Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. It is what instructs your lungs to inhale, your eyes to blink and your legs to move. It is what makes you you, and it deserves the same level of care that you treat your other body parts with.

There is nothing wrong with an initial self-diagnosis, but the stigma which surrounds it is to some extent valid. Anxiety, depression, anorexia - none of these are disorders which should be taken lightly or romantasised. They are complex illnesses which so many individuals have to live with, and to play them down or to put them at the same level as general sadness or fear is unfair. If your mind is telling you that something isn't right, seeking professional help from your GP is the best thing that you can do for yourself.

Don't suffer in silence. Start talking about it.

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