The Difference Between Self-Diagnosis And Self-Advocacy

The Difference Between Self-Diagnosis And Self-Advocacy

Mental illness already has enough stigmas.

The internet is a gold mine of easily accessible information and resources about previously “taboo” topics. This open access to new information is undoubtedly beneficial for our society as a whole, but it opens doors for many questions regarding what to do with that information. In regards to mental illness and other cognitive disorders, there is often debate about the validity of self-diagnosis.

In most discussions of self-diagnosis, the term “self-advocacy” makes an appearance. Self-advocacy involves educating yourself on your symptoms and behaviors in regards to your health. It involves meeting with a doctor and advocating for yourself during your healthcare. Self-diagnosis is simply going a step further from research and speculation towards labeling your behavior and experiences.

Frankly, speculating you have a disorder is essentially diagnosing yourself. We all self-diagnose at some point, from simple things like a cold; or more complex issues like realizing you may need therapy. Rarely does one go to a therapist without having a sense that something is wrong, and typically you realize you have the flu before visiting a doctor. Professional diagnosis simply confirms what you already know.

There is a difference between people who self-diagnose as a cop-out for their behavior and those who self-diagnose out of necessity. Within this debate of self-diagnosis verses self-advocacy, we are disregarding those who decide to say they have bipolar disorder in order to abuse their family or that they have anxiety to seem “quirky." Everyone agrees that their “diagnosis” is not valid, and their involvement in all this only further stigmatizes disorders in general. The general public tends to discriminate against illness and disability, and refuse to acknowledge their existence without “proof”; this “proof” coming from a professional diagnosis.

Self-advocacy does not take into account that you may not have a doctor to whom you can advocate. Those who have access to a doctor may experience issues due to their race, gender, social class, and financial standing. Even when seeking a diagnosis, some people are denied based on these setbacks. Doctors, unfortunately, are not perfect people, and some may be prejudiced and put their personal beliefs and biases before the health of their patient.

Children and teenagers may not be able to receive any sort of formal diagnosis due to unsupportive or abusive caregivers. Obvious signs of mental illness may not be taken seriously by parents and teachers due to widespread misconceptions about mental illness and other disorders. For example, boys are often ignored when signs of emotional disorders take place and are instead told to “man up”. Teenage girls may be told that “it’s just hormones” and often seen as “over exaggerating”; only to find out as an adult that they were denied an opportunity to receive help. This biased lack of diagnosis occurs in actual medical care, in instances like an appendix rupture being diagnosed as cramps.

Even without these roadblocks, some may find it unnecessary to receive a formal diagnosis. For example, if someone has ADHD but does not need accommodations, a formal diagnosis may not be necessary for that individual. Remember, medical choices like receiving a diagnosis are up to the personal discretion of the individual, but it does not make their disorder any less real.

Educated self-diagnosis does not hurt anyone. Doctors with the best intentions can misdiagnose in the same way a self-diagnosed person could. The act of diagnosing oneself can potentially become a problem when people seek out treatment, but that is not why most self-diagnose. In order to receive drugs or therapy, someone who self-diagnosed would need a professional diagnosis to receive that treatment. This leads to the question: Why would someone self-diagnose if they cannot access treatment?

Living with a disorder does in fact exist outside of the medical context. Disorders do not become real only when diagnosed by a professional. Those without access to a diagnosis still have the disorder, and a self-diagnosis can help them cope. A diagnosis is simply an explanation for why you are who you are. Labeling yourself with a disorder or illness can help you understand your actions and feelings and learn to cope with your disorder. It enables you to find a community of people who understand and support you. Self-diagnosis leads to you making sense of yourself.

Many people may not understand how diagnosis actually occurs in a professional setting. Mostly, you fill out a checklist or questionnaire. They often simply describe symptoms and ask if you relate. All of these resources can be found online, the only difference being the hefty bill you receive at the doctors. While they do have valuable expertise and training, medical professionals are not magic genies who know everything about everyone’s mental state.

Self-diagnosis in no way is meant to undermine professional diagnosis, and self-advocacy is definitely something everyone should engage in while receiving healthcare. Insisting on a professional diagnosis from people who have mental illness or other disorders, however, disregards the challenges that those people face in receiving said diagnosis. Those who make an educated, truthful self-diagnosis are no less than one who received a professional one. Implying so puts even more pressure on those who need and deserve our support, rather than our judgement.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Professional Athletes Are People, Too

How two NBA players are working to fight the stigma around mental health.

On February 17, 2018, DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors star basketball player, tweeted this out:

DeRozan was in California, preparing to play in the NBA All-Star game, with no obvious struggle to explain this tweet. He was having a career year and leading his team to their best season in franchise history. One of the best players in the league, he had plenty of money, fame, and success. And yet, DeRozan openly admitted that, despite his seemingly perfect life, he still struggles with depression. Two weeks later, Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love published an article on The Players Tribune website entitled “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” In it, he detailed his own experiences with panic attacks that led him to stop neglecting his mental health and talk to a therapist.

In his piece, Love revealed that DeRozan’s tweet helped him open up and share his story. After all, athletes aren’t used to talking about their mental health struggles; Love writes in his article that “I’d never heard of any pro athlete talking about mental health, and I didn’t want to be the only one.”

Having DeRozan be honest about his depression must have been a huge relief to Love, as it showed that he wasn’t alone in dealing with his mental health among his peers. This is why it’s especially important that two athletes revealed that they regularly struggle with their mental health. In sports, depression is seen as a lack of toughness, a crutch that can be taken advantage of.

Love writes that “I didn’t want to look weak. Honestly, I just didn’t think I needed [to see a therapist]. It’s like the playbook said — figure it out on your own, like everyone else around me always had.”

Just as athletes want to play through injuries no matter what, they have also grown up believing that sharing their inner problems will counteract their macho, tough image and make them look weak and vulnerable instead.

This stigma around mental health trickles down to outside viewers: little kids who see their favorite NBA players as superheroes and regular people who may deal with depression but feel isolated because no one talks about it openly. This is why having two athletes go against the mold, fight against the “figure it out on your own” culture in sports, and share their struggles, is so important.

Not only is it difficult for them to be vulnerable enough to share their struggles, but it also shows millions of fans who also struggle with their mental health that they aren’t alone and that their circumstances are very normal: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental health problems each year. Love and DeRozan sharing their own struggles will help lessen the stigma around dealing with mental health problems.

I applaud DeRozan and Love for being open and vulnerable enough to express their mental health stories. Knowing that millions of people would know something so sensitive and personal about them must have been very difficult. Their platform as professional athletes will hopefully improve how mental health is discussed, both in traditionally macho athletic settings as well as among the general public. Perhaps most importantly, kids who look up to these sports stars as heroes and role models will hopefully learn that mental health struggles are normal, that talking about mental health is extremely helpful, and that anyone and everyone can have down moments in which they need outside help.

DeRozan would later follow up his tweet and say that “no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day.” Hopefully, with his and Love’s experiences, more people can treat others with respect and kindness, knowing that everyone, even superheroic sports stars, is going through something.

Cover Image Credit: @kevinlove / Instagram

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No pain no gain.

I bought a waist trainer recently after hearing how you could easily shave inches off your waist with it. Here are some thoughts you have when you get a waist trainer.

1. I could definitely look like Kim Kardashian.

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