There are few health-related topics receiving as much media attention at the moment as mental health, and rightly so. It’s been a tragically misunderstood and vastly under-resourced part of human conditions for years.
The NHS says that one in four adults and one in ten children will experience mental health problems, however only a small amount of the NHS budget has been historically set aside for mental health research, diagnosis or treatment. This is getting better (£11.9 billion in 2017/18), but the waiting lists are still too long, and the medical opinions between departments are still too rampantly inconsistent.
I know from first-hand experience with both anxiety and depression, just how debilitating poor mental health can be, and I have friends who have gone through incredibly serious treatment for significant mental health conditions.
That all said, there is another ‘other’ side.
As mental health is dialled up to 11 in the media, and the – much needed – mission to re-educate the public on its seriousness is highlighted, pop-psychology has also been dialled up, and genuine illnesses are in danger of being sensationalised as almost fashionable. There is a tendency to become very reactionary to basic terms, there are thousands of websites where you can get ‘self-diagnosed’, and there are all kinds of misinformed instructional blogs on how to be treated.
Some of these videos and blogs are incredibly helpful, but many are not. With the internet being the shape it is, we have no way of knowing if the guy at the other end of the keyboard is an actual MD, or a college drop-out sitting on his parents couch with a can of Monster and ill-fitting pyjamas.
The dangers of self-diagnosis online
Please understand that I write this out of a genuine desire to get people who are really struggling in front of actual doctors. The internet, even when it’s right, is by its nature anonymous and impersonal. This means that even if you do get a correct diagnosis, the treatment suggested might not be at all helpful for you, and could even be harmful.
With the growing awareness of mental health conditions and symptoms there are, thankfully, more people seeing doctors. This has, however, led to an increased burden on the NHS, which makes it understandable why they have created online ‘mood assessment’ quizzes. Even this quiz, however, with its genuine research and actual stock GP questions is marked with the disclaimer: ‘The quiz is not designed to replace an appointment with your GP.’
Psychology Today warns us that self-diagnosis may be missing something important that a doctor would be able to tease out with you, they say ‘you may be overwhelmed by anxiety and think that you have an anxiety disorder. The anxiety disorder [however] may be covering up a major depressive disorder.’
I have two very good friends with diagnosed, long-term clinical depression. Both receive treatment from doctors for their conditions. One of these friends takes medication, which – in the main – helps, the other isn’t allowed that particular medication because it causes triggers for his (also diagnosed) hebephrenic schizophrenia. They can’t be treated the same way. One of them sees a counsellor at their office, the other cannot be alone in a room with someone unless there are no windows and they are facing the door – which has to be locked. They both have ‘depression’ but different treatment plans made specifically for them.
There is also a blurred line between feeling something and suffering with something. Anyone can ‘feel depressed’ for instance, however not everyone has ‘clinical depression.’ Mental health includes things like chemical imbalances, vitamin production issues, and beta misfires. Self-diagnosis and treatment may be replacing another important need in your life where you should, in fact, be working on resilience and maturity. Mental health and hypochondria have (very ironically) become a taboo pairing.
In Youth Work
When it comes to young people, media-sensationalising, youtube ‘experts’, and ‘10 questions to find out if you’re a psychopath’ online quizzes – many of which are aimed at teenagers – easily throws fuel onto this fire.
I have young people who tell me regularly that they can’t participate in an activity or follow a rule because of their self-diagnosed / undiagnosed ‘mental health.’ This also carries on to personality types and additional needs. I recently was told by a young boy in a classroom that he should be allowed to bang his lunch and disrupt the room because he had ‘dyspraxia.’ Not only is this a poor understanding of dyspraxia, but it made light of two other people in the room who genuinely do struggle with dyspraxia and are trying to manage it.
I wouldn’t want to make light of a young person’s self-identity, of course. There are many young people who do have genuine mental health concerns, and some are still without a diagnosis. However, there is still a line to be trod between total acceptance and total rejection.
I have other young people in my groups who, along with parents, carers and doctors, are working on mental health issues and have asked me to support those efforts. I am all for this!
So, here’s a few things you can do:
- Get educated. Learn about conditions and treatments. Find out about the diagnosis procedures and the nuances of what is done in support.
- Get connected. Find out what mental health facilities are available in your area, especially for young people. This goes beyond the NHS and will often include support forums and charities.
- Get compassionate. Always start with grace and mercy. Don’t immediately judge or write off a young person’s self-identity, but talk with them, ask questions, and work on it with them healthily and compassionately.
- Get supportive. Young people with additional needs and mental health conditions often have a ‘one sheet’ created by doctors, teachers and social workers. This single page gives information about that particular person, what their triggers are, and how to help them. Ask them to see it and be a part of their growth and management.
- Get honest. Don’t try to be a doctor. Always follow medical advice, and always refer young people to professionals. Strongly suggest seeing their GP, and even offer to go with them. This step can actually be a huge fear obstacle to overcome, especially with some mental health conditions, so be understanding. However, do be firm, challenging, and help them get the help they need.
- Get talking. Make mental health a regular topic of discussion with your young people, and work hard at removing taboos. Bring into it the need to medical support, and the dangers of self diagnosis. Do it well, and self diagnosis won’t need to be a thing.
- Get praying. Need I say more? 🙂