Dangers of Looking up Mental Illness on the Internet

Carol Roach By Carol Roach, 23rd Aug 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Mind & Spirit>Mental Health

The general public cannot diagnose mental illnesses just because they read something on the net. It takes years of training to be able to differentiate the subtleties between the illnesses and even then misdiagnoses have been made.


Recently I was part of discussion where laypeople were discussing mental illness. One thing that was discussed was how "unprofessional labeling" was done quite frequently in the general population. What I mean by "unprofessional labeling" is the practice of untrained individuals loosely labeling certain people they know, based on some preconceived and usually erroneous assumptions about the mental illnesses. Since the advent of the information highway, laypeople have access to medical articles on the Internet and presume by reading a few of these articles they have enough knowledge to label someone with a diagnosis.

This practice of labeling someone based on what you think you know is very irresponsible and can damage the person's credibility in their social circle or even in the workplace. Labeling is a subject that remains controversial in the medical field among qualified professionals so you can imagine how much damage can be done to an innocent individual who has fallen victim to either a misdiagnose from a professional, or the brunt of a rumor circulated by a layperson.

Once again, I must reiterate the general public cannot diagnose mental illnesses just because they read something on the net. It takes years of training to be able to differentiate the subtleties between the illnesses and even then misdiagnoses have been made.

Information found on the net is to be used as an initial starting point, after which professional help should be sought.

Qualified professionals

To illustrate what I am saying by using a medical example; everyone can read about how to perform an operation, but does that make them surgeons - of course not. The same holds true for reading about mental illnesses, because you have read about them and have some basic knowledge it does not make you a psychiatrist or psychologist. These professions require years of education and or training.

One of the problems with mental illness is that oftentimes the symptoms overlap and it can be quite confusing for a layperson to pinpoint which illness is which. Furthermore, most laypeople know very few mental illnesses and will have the tendency to lump all symptoms together and thus label people by the most common illnesses or the ones that most people know and in fact they are totally wrong.

The danger is a person who does not have a mental illness, may be said to have one based on exhibiting a few uncommon behaviors.

Or someone who really does have a mental illness will go undiagnosed because the significant people in his or her life failed to see some peculiar behavior and did not report it to the mental health professionals.

Many mental illnesses share some of the same symptoms and only a qualified professional is trained to differentiate the illnesses and diagnose a patient after collecting an extensive case history.

To further complicate matters, some patients may have more than one mental illness. It can become quite confusing.

However, it is not that much different from medical illness, the same presenting symptoms can in fact indicate the presence of different diseases. It is the combination of symptoms, the frequency, and severity that will decide which mental illness or medical illness is present.

Again, to give an illustration from the medical field, a person experiencing a common headache does not necessarily jump to the conclusion that he or she has a brain tumor, so why would that same person decide that someone they know has a mental disorder based on the fact that sometimes the person appears to be grumpy or in a bad mood? The layperson's imagination goes wild, diagnosing the aforementioned individual with anything from depression, antisocial behavior, borderline personality disorder, or bi polar disorder. By now you can readily see the danger of diagnosing someone without proper medical training.

There is a baseline that is considered normal behavior, the same way as there is a baseline on what is considered physically normal.

Normal human body temperature is defined by 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.0 degrees Celsius. If somebody went to the doctor with a temperature of 99.6, the doctor will not be alarmed, yet if that person had a 105 temperature the doctor is going to very concerned. For a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit is far above the normal body temperature reading. Fever is a powerful indicator that something is wrong and the doctor will take a series of tests to decipher exactly what the problem is.

Similarly, if a psychiatrist, or psychologist's patient comes in with a presenting symptom, such as loss of appetite, or inability to sleep at night, the doctor will first rule out any possible medical conditions and if there is no medical reason for the symptoms, a psychological evaluation would be compiled. The presenting problem is usually just a starting point for a medical diagnoses and or treatment.

When we think of mental illness, many people will automatically consider bizarre behavior. It is important to note that each and every one of us do crazy things at one time or another, it is the quality and the degree of that crazy behaviour that decides if it is a mental illness or not.

To Illustrate, we can take the example of nakedness. Normally when a couple have sex they are naked, a perfectly normal behavior. However, how do we define when being naked is normal, simply inappropriate, or a behavior indicating a possibly mental disorder? Is being naked in your own home normal when you walk around all day long that way?

For some people the answer would be yes, even though it is not culturally accepted, it is not necessarily a reason to give somebody a diagnosis of mental illness without other unconventional behaviors.

Taken a step further, if that person leaves his house and walks to the corner store for a quart of milk naked, that is very bizarre behaviour. If that person goes to church on a Sunday naked that again is bizarre and irrational behaviour. It would be at this point a psychological evaluation would be called for.

The deciding factor for possible mental illness arose when the individual left the privacy of his or her own home to venture naked in public disregarding all social mores.

However, does exposing oneself in public always indicate mental illness? The answer is not necessarily.

People have streaked in public for a political cause. It was common in the late 1970's and early 1980's to hear of college students streaking for a cause. This behavior was very unconventional, and went against the social mores of the times. Nevertheless, streaking had a purpose, generally bringing much attention to their cause and it ended after a period of time.

Nudist colonies are communities where people who enjoy being naked can still be apart of a social community without offending the general public. Nudists realize that nudity is not accepted in mainstream society, but have found an acceptable outlet. A nudist in the colony would not be exhibiting bizarre behaviour. The nudist in this case would be simply living an alternative lifestyle. The nudist knows when and where nudity is acceptable. The nudist is in touch with reality.

Most mental disorders stem from the fact that people are not totally in touch with reality. Their perception is distorted in some way. However, as you have seen from this discussion so far, there are degrees of mental illness just like there are degrees or stages of medical illnesses such stage, one, two, three, and four of cancer and so on.

Similarly there are some mental illnesses considered more severe than others in the same way that cancer is more severe in form and function than bronchitis.

Professionals can make mistakes

Information found on the net is to be used as an initial starting point, after which professional help should be sought.

Even the professionals sometimes make mistakes when diagnosing mental illness

The DSM IV - Revised is the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and is used throughout the mental health profession as the authority on the identification and classification of mental illness. The DSM is sectioned off by what are called axes. There are five axes in total. Axis I identifies and classifies the most severe mental disorders and Axis II, the personality disorders. The other three axes are not the focus of this paper.

By the standard definition borderline personality disorder is not as severe as the axis I disorders, though it is the most severe of the axis II personality disorders. What this means is that people with borderline personality disorders do not function like the general population in the same circumstances, but they are for the most part still in touch with what we call reality, at least most of the time.

Yet, their reactions to things and people around them are far from normal, they will overreact to people and situations almost all the time. People with borderline personality disorder overreact to mundane situations and have a distorted view of reality at the time.

It is the degree of distortion that makes the difference between normal and abnormal behavior and people with personality disorders will overreact more often than not. For example saying "no" to a person with a personality disorder, especially borderline personality disorder, can become a reason for huge fight.

We all know that in life there are times when we must say no. People suffering from borderline personality disorder cannot accept no for an answer regardless of the reasoning for declining their demands. An average person can accept no if they ask for a favor from someone and that person is unable to do it with good justification. The borderline personality disorder individual will not be able to accept any explanation for being refused the favor This is why it is considered a mental disorder. It is called borderline because it is on the borderline that cuts off axis I from axis II mental disorders. In other words though they still function in reality as we know it, there are times that that reality is very distorted and so they are on the borderline between the two axes.

The most severe of all the mental illnesses is schizophrenia and therefore it is classified in DSM IV axis I. People suffering from schizophrenia are usually so totally out of reality they are said to be experiencing psychosis. They do not know right from wrong. They may not know who they are, nor understand what is real to what is imaginary.

For example I had a patient that would not turn on the TV, because the man in the TV, was telling her to kill herself. I had another one who is convinced that he saw a cigarette float through the air all evening long and the police were sending him mental warnings that they were out to get him.

Three of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia though one does not have to have all three symptoms to be given that classification.

DID or Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as MPD, or multiple personality disorder, happens when the person has a fragmented personality. Sometimes they are themselves and sometimes they become another personality (person(s)), which are completely different from the main personality. For example, an adult may have several personalities who are children, or a very shy and gentle person may have a very wild and brash personality.

Bipolar Disorder is often time misdiagnosed or misunderstood by the layperson to be schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder formerly known as manic depressive disorder is a disorder on its own and considered a mood disorder. Simply stated these moods are happy and sad. What makes it a disorder is that when patients suffering from the disorder are happy or manic, they are way too happy and overly optimistic to the point that they sometimes confuse reality. The manic stage of the disorder can be easily mistaken for schizophrenia.

For example in a manic stage sufferers can do irrational things such as trying to complete a four-year university program in three months. The behavior is bizarre and not based in reality. Once the stage is over the patients usually crash and go into the depression stage.

The other stage of bipolar disorder is sad, or depressed, and when people suffering from this stage of the disorder are depressed, they are clinically depressed.

Depression is also a mental disorder on its own, but what makes clinical depression and bipolar disorder different is that bipolar disorder affects the two mood polar opposites - depression and mania, whereas clinical depression only affects depression.

Symptoms, as you see, do overlap and that is why only a qualified clinician can make a diagnosis, not the laymen who read a few articles on the net.

All photos taken from the public domain

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Borderline Personality Disorder, Case History, Diagnosis, Dsm, Information, Internet, Labeling, Labels, Mental Diagnosis, Mental Disorders, Mental Health, Mental Health Labels, Mental Illness, Misdiagnosis, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Unprofessional Labeling

Meet the author

author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

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