How social media is contributing to the dangerous tendency of self-diagnosis.
Welcome to the Topic “How social media is contributing to the dangerous tendency of self-diagnosis.”
Saying that social media has brought about a change in the way we humans think and operate is a big understatement. Many facts like accessibility, availability, interaction, and onion-forming are no longer dependent on fact-checking or consultation of deliberate and reliable sources. This means that any and all information found on the internet is considered usable without further question.
While this is broadly a problem on its own, another concerning aspect that it’s introducing and normalizing is that of self-diagnosis. If you’ve been in a situation where you used sketchy internet pages to find out more about a physiological or mental illness and were plagued with doubt about it afterwards, read on to find out just how alarmingly common and dangerous this is.
What is self-diagnosis, and why should we avoid it?
If you're going to understand self-diagnosis, it is imperative that the concept of diagnosis is clear and understandable to you. In healthcare, diagnosis is essentially the identification of an illness or the recognition of particular symptoms that make it so for pathology to be determined. Ideally, this is done by a medical or mental health professional pertaining to the nature of the illness at hand.
Diagnosis is the very first step that is directly linked to other facets like treatment, prevention, and even one's prognosis. In the past, people were constrained to seek information about pathologies from those with knowledge and experience. In today's age of the internet and virtual expertise? Not so much. In fact, this has created what is known as self-diagnosis.
Self-diagnosis happens when an untrained, inexperienced, and unqualified individual makes a tentative (or what they believe is absolute) diagnosis about a condition they might be experiencing. In this case, symptoms of pathology are consulted from online sources and often implemented when they are, in fact, not at all present. This causes exaggeration of present symptoms and might even cause someone to seek treatments from unfit sources or even self-medicate.
How is social media contributing to self-diagnosis?
Social media has opened up doors for all sorts of individuals to create platforms where they are seen and heard. Once they amass a significant number of followers, they have an influence that comes with a lot of responsibility and ethical consideration, especially in cases where the content they are producing relates to physiological or mental health or medical conditions.
Nurses, mental health professionals, doctors, and many other healthcare experts have now joined social media and have spaces where they share information, raise awareness, and support individuals who lack resources and accessibility. While this is good, it has also given space for unqualified individuals to join the mix and do the same. For instance, many individuals who are not professionally trained and solely gain their information off of unreliable sources see it fit to educate others on the matter.
Social media has no identification policy whereby someone has to submit their credentials to prove that they are indeed suitable to be handing out the advice and information they are. This is risky and downright dangerous. Misinformation about a particular condition can cause people to adopt techniques and methodologies that are unproven and harmful. Those offering this information might only be looking for recognition, popularity, or monetary benefit upon amassing a significant follower base with no concern for the authenticity of the facts and figures that they are distributing.
This is not all; websites that claim to provide tested and accurate information on conditions such as cancers, mental pathologies, and so on are creating a group of hypochondriacs who can succumb to further mental distress upon internalizing this information, which may not even be true in the first place. This adds stressors to an already struggling person's life and may further cause them to adopt dysfunctional habits and behaviors.
An undeniable instance of this danger was how a lot of misinformation about covid-19 spread on social media during the pandemic. People consulted all sorts of platforms to obtain faulty information about treatment, cause, diagnosis, and prevention of the coronavirus. People's hesitation to get vaccinated on account of untrue concerns and outcomes. This aversion to an important measure to fight against a life-threatening illness alarmingly set back progress, and social media was at the root of it.
What measures can one take to avoid the dangers of self-diagnosis that social media offers?
Firstly, it is essential to appropriately educate newer and older users of social media about both its good and bad sides. Source credibility is an essential factor that needs to be taught and imparted to individuals who might not be as experienced with corroborating things they read online and simply pass it on because it appears intriguing and interesting. This might appear as nothing more than good fun or innocent sharing, but the repercussions it comes with are alarming.
In recent times, this is especially common in cases of mental illness. It is important that social media users are psycho-educated about how psychological illnesses actually present themselves and which information not to trust in this regard. Physiological health is, of course, just as important, but mental health has been seen to be more vulnerable on the premises of social media.
Supervised use of social media for people who are younger and more suggestible is also important to avoid the harms that come with self-diagnosis. Having open conversations with those around us will also help us avoid relying on social media for information; instead, those around us can guide us towards actual professionals that can really help address our concerns.
Here’s the takeaway:
Social media is particularly dangerous when relied on upon without fact-checking and credibility. Healthcare is an important aspect of the lives of all those around us, and it involves physiological health as well as mental health. Unchecked dependence on social media to obtain information that should come from credible sources is an unfortunate step back for healthcare in our country and should be avoided and prevented in any and all ways manageable.
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