The way we get our information has changed dramatically in recent years. Where we once turned to experts and professionals to learn about complex topics, we now often turn to the internet – and specifically, social media platforms. We live in a world where anyone can be their own doctor, thanks to the vast amount of online medical information. While this is generally a good thing, there is a downside: people use this information to self-diagnose.
How Social Media Turned Mental Health Into a Trending Topic
The development of social media platforms has greatly impacted the conversation surrounding mental health. For generations, many people had been too afraid or embarrassed to discuss past experiences with mental wellness openly. With social media, however, individuals were suddenly able to connect with one another regardless of location – breaking down physical and emotional barriers that previously prevented these conversations.
More recently, influential figures have come forward to candidly share their own stories – further encouraging more vulnerable conversations between peers and spreading awareness of mental health across all ages on an unprecedented scale.
The rise in visibility also opened the discussion up to new perspectives and expertise that had been otherwise missing from the dialogue. However, while this has been a positive development overall, it has also had some unintended consequences. The oversimplification of mental health topics to fit into short-form media and the lack of professional oversight on platforms like TikTok have led to an increase in false or incomplete information about mental health being shared online. In fact, a recent study found that a full 61% of the mental health-related content on TikTok was inaccurate.
The Danger of Self-Diagnosis
Mental health is complicated and requires an expert opinion for accurate diagnosis and treatment. The risks associated with self-diagnosis on social media platforms are significant:
While self-reported symptoms can offer valuable insights into what an individual might be experiencing, they cannot replace the expertise and experience of a clinician in performing mental health assessments and providing diagnoses. Without a clinician’s help, it is easy to misinterpret one’s own symptoms or draw false conclusions. Additionally, inaccurate and misleading information found online can lead individuals down the wrong path in their attempts at self-diagnosis or selecting treatments that do not meet their needs.
Delays in Treatment
Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose accurately, and symptoms are tricky to pinpoint with absolute certainty. This makes it easy for someone who is self-diagnosing to overlook something important, incorrectly label their problem as one thing when it may actually be another or ignore that there is a problem entirely. Left untreated, mental health issues can worsen over time and become harder to treat. Individuals who self-diagnose without consulting a professional may delay getting the help they need for an extended period.
With the expansion of tele-health services and mail-order medication, it has become easier to take matters into one’s own hands and start a treatment plan without ever talking to a doctor or having their diagnosis confirmed. However, this can be dangerous. Improper self-administration of medications can lead to serious side effects, and individuals may not receive the care they truly need if they are not seeing a qualified clinician.
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What Can Providers Do to Reduce the Risks of Self-Diagnosis for Their Clients?
Overall, the influx of mental health content on social media has been a positive development in that it has helped to reduce stigma and encourage conversations about mental health. However, providers must be mindful of the risks associated with self-diagnosis and encourage their clients to seek professional help if needed. Providers can do this by:
Educating Patients About Self-Diagnosis Risks
It is essential for healthcare providers to advise their clients against self-diagnosis and incorrect treatments, highlighting how complicated mental health can be. Patients may mistakenly think they can diagnose themselves with mental health issues based on the information they find online or through anecdotal information from peers. Though, many of these sources do not provide comprehensive, accurate information and could do harm should patients apply the wrong advice as treatment.
Emphasizing the Importance of An Individualized Approach
Each person’s mental health journey is unique and requires an individualized approach. Providers should emphasize this importance to their patients and make sure they understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to mental health issues. What works for someone else may not be the best course of action for them.
Staying Up to Date on Relevant Resources
Providers should stay apprised of the various mental health resources available to their patients so they can direct them in the right direction if needed. This could include everything from reliable online sources for trusted information about issues, such as websites run by national organizations or .gov domains, to local support groups and community resources.
Being Open to Discussing Social Media Use
Providers should have an open dialogue with their patients about their social media use and the mental health content they may be exposed to online. This can help providers better understand what kinds of messages their patients are receiving and provide additional support as needed.
Encouraging Patients to Ask Questions
Providers should encourage their clients to ask questions and raise concerns about any mental health topics they may be researching. This allows the provider to provide more accurate and concrete information about the patient’s concerns, helping them make better-informed decisions about their care.
Making Treatment Accessible
Providers must strive to ensure their patients have access to necessary care and treatment, whether it be through virtual visits or in-person appointments. Additionally, providers should make sure their clients know how to file a claim for reimbursement and what insurance coverage they have available to them.
With the rise of online resources and social media, providers need to stay informed about the risks associated with self-diagnosis and how to mitigate them. Providers should be aware of the various online sources available, educate their patients about self-diagnosis risks, and make sure they have access to necessary treatment. By following these steps, providers can help their clients make better-informed decisions about their mental health needs. Additionally, mental health-specific practice management software such as ShareNote can provide healthcare providers with the tools they need to better serve their patients and ensure they get the care they need. Sign up for a free demo of ShareNote today, and see how it can help your practice.