Dangers of Looking up Mental Illness on the Internet

Carol Roach By Carol Roach, 2nd Nov 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Mind & Spirit>Mental Health

Many people read about mental disorders on the Internet and then begin to diagnosis themselves and others accordingly. This is very dangerous because they do not have the basic training and different people can get hurt this way.

Unprofessional labeling

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.

Mental illness

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.

Is streaking mental illness

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.

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Diagnose Your Mental Disorder, Diagnosing Mental Illness, Diagnosis Mental Illness, Diagnosis Of Mental Illness, Labeling Mental Illness, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Unprofessional Diagnosis

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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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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
3rd Nov 2015 (#)

Interesting post!

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author avatar Retired
3rd Nov 2015 (#)

Well said. Maybe schools should teach courses on how to use information found on the Internet - it would solve so many problems, in many fields of knowledge, if people learned how to trust and distrust what they read.

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author avatar Kingwell
3rd Nov 2015 (#)

I may be out of touch with reality sometimes but I would never self diagnose. I leave that to the professional. Blessings.

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author avatar Carol Roach
3rd Nov 2015 (#)

remember out of touch with reality doesn't mean that sometimes we get confused even as we age, it is a constant mental state when for example you just happen to believe you are Henry VIII, or RCMP and the CIA are watching you and so on.

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