Print Edition: April 3, 2013
I was having a bad time of it. It was my first semester at UFV and I was entering midterm week.Having recently split with a significant other, was feeling what I thought was an unusual amount of guilt and sadness.
I’m a psychology major, so the possibilities of self-diagnoses were endless: generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression – the list gets increasingly ominous. I had myself completely classified and categorized to the point of imagining new and destructive symptoms. I was becoming psychoneurotic, and convinced that I was suffering from a debilitating and hopeless condition. I was spiralling. A week later, everything was fine and back to normal, and I realized how dangerous a little knowledge can be.
Nowadays you don’t need to be a psych major or a medical student to self-diagnose. With the introduction of handy, one click online symptom checks, health discussion forums and the mental health/pop psychology fad, everyone can be a doctor. And, as simple Google search yields rare and life-threatening diseases, everyone can become hypochondriacs. This phenomenon is known as cyberchondriasis, defined as an escalation in concerns about symptoms found based on search results on the web. People with cyberchondriasis are often convinced that they are afflicted with disorders with vague and ambiguous symptoms. Confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek information that confirms your preconceptions, is a dangerous thing when sifting through the endless information available online.
I’m not saying that the internet can’t be used to answer some health questions. It’s a useful resource when used correctly. Its problem is that it’s unfiltered; if you have a headache, your search is likely to yield results like “brain tumor,” “hydrocephalus” and “brain aneurysm.” It’s likely that you’re a sensible person and you will pass over these suggestions, though not everyone does. And when you really think about it, and let the paranoia get to you, you might start thinking that you are experiencing the symptoms of a person afflicted with a brain tumor! Don’t go down this path. It’ll lead to nothing more than some sleepless nights and a painfully awkward doctor’s appointment.
Cyberchondriasis is becoming an increasingly serious issue in the world of psychology. With normal emotions being catastrophized and everyone becoming a semi expert on pop psychology, the role of a diagnosis-happy internet is prominent. So take care to check yourself while you investigate yourself; know where the information is coming from, especially when connected to a certain medication. Mental health is the next “in” thing, but that doesn’t mean that all of our emotions can be pinned to a specific condition and it certainly doesn’t excuse your every volatile outburst in your English 105 class.
Knowledge is only powerful when you have enough to realize that you don’t know everything.