These past few days, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, a psychological self-assessment tool, has been going viral. Many people have been posting their results on social media, starting the online discourse surrounding self-diagnosing, including experts and mental health organizations who are pointing out how harmful it can be.
It’s a tricky discussion to have with so many nuances. We can start by acknowledging that the allure of taking tests like this isn’t the same as the appeal of other online trends like TikTok challenges or food recipes.
Why do people self-diagnose in the first place?
Taking the test because everyone else on social media is doing so is a part of it, sure. But, as many people have pointed out, feeling the need to self-diagnose is also rooted in the fact that most people don’t have the resources needed to get professional help.
It’s easy to feel tempted to take tests like the DASS when you’re already experiencing symptoms but don’t have the vocabulary to articulate it. From experience, I know the inability to name what you’re going through can be terrifying, frustrating, and even worsen your mental state. This is especially true now that we’re all months into a pandemic, isolated from loved ones, and with even less access to professional help than before.
So, it’s understandable that people, especially those that are vulnerable and haven’t been presented with other options, were quick to choose the method that required the least money and time.
I’m not saying that people should be free to self-diagnose. There are concrete dangers that stem from it, and we should definitely avoid relying on self-assessment methods alone. It’s just important to not shame them for trying to in the first place and, instead, educate them. And I don’t mean just telling them how self-diagnosing can harm them:
I also mean providing reliable resources that can help them learn more about their potential conditions and details of free professional mental health services they can turn to. I also mean acknowledging the need to find a balance between two extremes: solely using online quizzes to diagnose yourself and ignoring symptoms altogether just because you don’t have a diagnosis. I also mean allowing them to use their DAAS results not as a diagnosis but as the first stepping stone toward seeking professional help if they suspect there’s some truth to what the test tells them.
Everyone’s experience with mental health is different and informed by so many factors, like family background, personal relationships, and class. That, added to the stigma and healthcare problems, makes discussions like these difficult. The best we can do is look out for each other and ourselves, listen to experts, and proceed with enough empathy to not shame each other for the imperfect beginnings of all our journeys toward understanding our mental health better.
(If you are experiencing mental health problems, you can find a comprehensive list of helpful resources here.)