In our contemporary world, our lives are governed by technology. These advancements have made our lives easier and increasingly more efficient. Technology is rapidly evolving, with new robotics and machinery being administered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). This has also led to an increase in information availability, causing the birth of an entirely new discipline of Information technology (IT). Individuals worldwide have easy access to a repertory of information with just a single click of a button. However, the sole solution to every single question or problem any human may have is Google. From helping children with their math problems to adults with businesses and elders with entertainment, Google, practically runs our world. You get a headache. You Google it. You feel sad. You Google it. You feel anxious. You Google it. How many times have you googled your symptoms, only to read the most exaggerated and dangerous illnesses?
Self-diagnoses is the process of diagnosing illnesses, whether physical or mental, bases on past experiences or information available on the internet and popular media. When contacting a healthcare professional was the first step after the onset of symptoms, individuals now reach out to their smartphones to quickly google the symptoms instead. People resort to self-diagnosing mental illnesses since it’s “easier”, leading to inaccurate and worst-case results. Psychologists point out that self-diagnosing also causes extreme tendencies of “matching-symptoms” as consumers gain information from the internet. They also get sucked into the deep search of symptoms-over-symptoms, causing them to believe in a false reality.
At some point or the other, we have all been ‘Google doctors’. You are not alone. Statistics prove that over a third of adults regularly use the internet for self-diagnosis. The primary reason for this is that we live in a face-paced and goal-oriented world, where quicker solutions are valued higher than accurate ones. Mental health implications of self-diagnosis are widespread as people start convincing themselves they have the disease. This leads to cause a rare condition called ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome’ in which someone fabricates illnesses.
The first step after the identification of symptoms must be a formal diagnosis by a certified professional. Although this is not always the case, people consult ‘Dr. Google’ is often extremely dangerous and counterproductive. One of the most common dangers of self-diagnosis is that it causes stress from impending doom. Search engines are programmed in the way to bring up all illnesses with similar symptoms. This causes individuals, especially those with Health Anxiety, to believe they have serious diseases.
In contrast, in reality, they have little-to-no symptoms. Another such danger of self-diagnosis is misdiagnosing or taking incorrect medication. Misdiagnosing could take place since the internet has a large number of unreliable sources. In some cases, making patients take the wrong medication causing more harm than good.
Self-diagnosing is driven by fake news. Articles on the internet use an emotional appeal on headlines to increase engagement. As we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media is a boon and a bane. It often imparts inaccurate information, unverified herbal remedies, and multiple myths. Another grave danger to self-diagnoses is misinterpretation and confusion. As unqualified individuals, we may misinterpret medical terms, treatments, and procedures, causing the situation to blow out of proportion. Psychologists highlight the mental health impact of being a ‘Google Doctor’ since the lack of nuances of diagnoses causes feelings of hopelessness. This develops fear and anxiety, and a loss of judgment and reasoning sets in. The mental filter instilled in each one gets corrupted with the host of tabs on google searching for physical or mental problems. The vicious cycle leads to an influx of misinformation on both a micro and macro level.
Constant headaches for a week – google ‘consistent headache’; unknown leg pain – quick search ‘leg pain on left side’; chest pain after lunch – type ‘signs of a heart attack’. If you google ‘why am I sad?’, there will be a host of articles on depression and anxiety symptoms. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, self-diagnosing became the norm. With every cough or sore throat, we tend to consult the ‘Google doctor’. With the number of times people spend on the internet and the availability of health information online, inevitably, they are bound to self-diagnose. However, it is essential to be grounded in reality and realize that Buzzfeed quizzes such as ‘How Anxious Are You?’ or articles titled ‘10 Things You Might Not Realize As signs of Anxiety’ cannot diagnose you with anxiety. An online ‘2-minute Depression Test’ cannot diagnose you with depression. And Google is definitely not qualified to replace any health care professional.
Today, let us break the chain of consulting Dr Google and promote the spread of accurate information through credible sources. Today, let us get out of the whirlpool of search engines and trust humans over machines. Today, let us stop trivializing severe mental illnesses to mere online ‘quizzes’ and instead seek professional help.