The Advocate

The placebo of self diagnosis

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Originating from Latin, ‘placebo’ refers to something that has no real medical or therapeutic effect, but is treated as something that does, acting as more of a psychological than physiological remedy. With the power of suggestion, doctors have been able to deceive and treat patients with falsified medicine, and still reap results.

Similarly, this idea overlaps into the world of psychology and mental health. Just as one, through a series of Google searches, can convince themselves that their cold symptoms are that of some deadly, far away disease, they could be led to the conclusion that they suffer from an arrangement of mental disorders.

Introducing: the accidental placebo of self-diagnosis.

“I suppose it’s common,” local psychologist Holly Schmitt said. “A majority of people [self diagnose].”

Though not necessarily harmful, as self diagnosing can lead to a further understanding of themself and their disorder, the act of tying a label to oneself becomes, itself, the placebo.

“If I think I’m a terrible person, I’m going to start seeing all the terrible things I do and start collecting that in my reservoir of who I am,” Schmitt said. “But if I’ve decided I’m a good person, those things may be smaller to me. I may, in fact, start collecting things that I do good.”

This analogy refers to the coming of awareness and the power of belief, mirroring that of a diagnosis. The reliability of diagnosis comes into question with the introduction of awareness. When one learns a new word, suddenly they see it everywhere. So, when one matches their symptoms to an affixed diagnosis, their alleged disorder becomes apparent.

“Now that we have consciousness of this concept, suddenly we can see it,” Schmitt said. “It has to do with awareness. If you don’t believe in something, you won’t see it.”

Someone who had never heard of bipolar disorder would never come to the conclusion that they may suffer from it. So the inverse would be that those aware of such a concept would be more likely to attach it to themselves.

“When people read the DSM, they go ‘Oh I’ve got that,’ and could certainly over-diagnose themselves,” Schmitt said. “So in that case, self-diagnosis could be harmful.”

In some situations, the attachment of a diagnosis is just a form of awareness. In others, diagnosis can become a type of sorted box.

“I used to have a resistance to the labeling used in diagnosis,” Schmitt said. “It’s sort of claiming it and saying, ‘This going to be who and how I am,’ making it permanent, if you will.”

Falling under a label can become almost restricting and truly affect one’s self perception. But on the same coin, offer a sense of belonging.

“I came to understand [diagnosing is] just a shortcut for a way to talk,” Schmitt said. “As humans, it’s our way of communicating: We have words for things.”

Words are just that, yet can act in a binding way. Regardless, the question of their influence is eternal.

“[Diagnosis] isn’t a concrete thing,” Schmitt said, “it’s a way to talk about a group of symptoms.”

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The placebo of self diagnosis