Let’s Talk About Self-Diagnosis

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram and come across posts discussing mental health? Have you ever thought, ‘huh, that really applies to me, I guess I have ADHD, autism’—or insert any other mental health diagnosis here. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another in our lives, but this practice can lead us into tricky, and sometimes dangerous, territory.


First off, let’s discuss what it means to self-diagnose. To simplify, it’s when we believe we have a mental health condition without having received confirmation from or consulting a mental health professional. Often, this involves watching videos of individuals discussing their own experiences and subsequently taking online quizzes that aren’t official assessments, ones that have been researched and studied. You know the ones I’m talking about—the forms you usually fill out when completing intake paperwork at your doctor’s office. Does the PHQ-9 ring any bells? Taking this a step further, this habit extends to physical health as well. How many of us have searched our symptoms on Google or WebMD and jumped to the conclusion that we are on the brink of death or have cancer? Certainly, no one needs that kind of stress in their life, especially when it’s likely untrue!


The Concerns – Education

So, why is self-diagnosing such a big deal? Probably the reason why you are reading this article in the first place, no? In simple terms: because this is a job for the professionals. I can hear you now: ‘Really, that’s your brilliant answer?’ Yes, it sounds straightforward, but mental health conditions are complex and require specialized knowledge, training, and experience to be understood properly. Personally, I hold an MSW (Master’s in Social Work) and a state license. My licensure required two years of supervised therapy under a qualified therapist after completing my master’s program, alongside a few courses, and passing the state exam. Some of our other therapists hold degrees in fields such as marriage & family therapy, with similar post-masters requirements. Additionally, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, requiring completion of medical school after earning a Bachelor’s degree, followed by residency and a state exam.



An eye-opening study recently conducted analyzed the accuracy of mental health information presented in social media videos. The results? A staggering 83.7% of these videos were found to be misleading, based on individual experiences rather than verified or professional sources. In regards to ADHD, the content in 100% of the videos was deemed misleading. Furthermore, only 9% of the individuals presenting information in the videos had the relevant qualifications to discuss mental health diagnoses. These are frightening statistics, to say the least!



Accuracy is not the only issue when it comes to self-diagnosing; it also leads us into the realm of comorbidity. Comorbidity refers to the coexistence of two or more diseases, disorders, or conditions in an individual, complicating the prognosis or treatment of the patient. I can speak from personal experience: my diagnosis of anxiety and my high-stress levels exacerbate my chronic illness, while my chronic illness, in turn, causes me significant stress and anxiety. Professionals have told me, ‘If we just address the anxiety, your chronic illness symptoms would likely improve.’ I’ve also heard, ‘If we manage your physical symptoms, your anxiety and stress would probably diminish.’


When considering mental health specifically, numerous symptoms can mimic or imitate each other, including those of physical medical conditions. Sometimes therapists need to refer patients to medical doctors to rule out physical conditions as factors in their mental health symptoms. Is your visual disturbance due to a mental health issue or a neurological condition? Do you have ADHD or depression? Bipolar Disorder or a personality disorder? It’s kind of like the age-old question: ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ Sometimes the answer isn’t straightforward. Sometimes two or more conditions can coexist, such as ADHD and depression, OR ADHD, depression, AND another condition entirely. 


The Benefits-Getting Access to Care

That said, self-diagnosing isn’t entirely negative. Are there benefits? Absolutely. A significant portion of our population, particularly minorities and people of color, lack access to adequate mental health care. In 2015, among adults with any mental illness, 48% of white individuals received mental health services, compared to 31% of black and Hispanic individuals, and 22% of Asians. Social media can offer these populations insight into what they might be experiencing and encourage them to seek professional help, even if it’s from their PCP (primary care provider).


Reduction of Stigma

Additionally, social media and the trend of self-diagnosing have played roles in normalizing mental health discussions and reducing stigma. More than half of individuals with mental health issues don’t seek help, often delaying or avoiding treatment due to fear of judgment or job loss. Social media creates a community where individuals can connect through comments, making mental health discussions seem less daunting and more relatable. Sometimes, it’s easier to talk about depression if you know your favorite online personality has opened up about their struggles.


Your Therapist

On another note, therapists can sometimes overlook things; we are all human, after all. Your therapist might not be familiar with a specific diagnosis, and your self-diagnosing could open their eyes to a new perspective, encouraging further learning and better care for you and future clients. It might also lead you to seek out a new therapist who specializes in the area you’re interested in, following a discussion with your current provider..


A robust diagnosis is a collaborative effort, integrating your experiences with your provider’s knowledge. Finding a trustworthy provider, one who validates you and encourages open communication, can transform the diagnostic process into a conversation rather than a daunting one-on-one meeting



American Psychiatric Organization. (2020, August). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination


comorbidity – Quick search results | Oxford English Dictionary. (n.d.). https://www.oed.com/search/dictionary/?scope=Entries&q=comorbidity&tl=true


Florida Board of Clinical Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapists and Mental Health Counselors. (n.d.). Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling » Licensed Clinical Social Worker- Licensing, renewals & information. https://floridasmentalhealthprofessions.gov/licensing/licensed-clinical-social-worker/


Harris, M. (2021, June). How social media is changing the way we think about mental illness. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/June-2021/How-Social-Media-Is-Changing-the-Way-We-Think-About-Mental-Illness


Jaramillo, J. (2023, April). Down The Rabbit Hole of Self-Diagnosis in Mental Health. LYNX LIFE LIBRARY. https://www.ucdenver.edu/student/stories/library/healthy-happy-life/down-the-rabbit-hole-of-self-diagnosis-in-mental-health#:~:text=Mental%20health%20conditions%20are%20complex,of%20the%20mental%20health%20experience.


Mimic – Quick search results | Oxford English Dictionary. (n.d.). https://www.oed.com/search/dictionary/?scope=Entries&q=Mimic&tl=true


PlushCare Content Team. (2022, November). How Accurate is Mental Health Advice on TikTok? https://plushcare.com/blog/tiktok-mental-health/


Statistics about disparities in mental health care – Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2021, October 11). Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/disparities-mental-health-care/#:~:text=People%20from%20racial%20and%20ethnic,%2C%20and%2022%25%20of%20Asians.


Justine Alemany