Saturday, February 04, 2023 | Rajab 12, 1444 H
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The Internet is not your doctor

A colleague was telling me about his son who found it difficult to relax during job interviews. He would feel very anxious and start sweating and stuttering and his heart beat goes up.

Despite scoring good marks in his exams his body lets him down during the interview. “He searched the symptoms and found out that it is called social anxiety, he then searched anxiety and found most symptoms apply to him, now he is very anxious about his anxiety. He kept reading and reading and self diagnosing.”

The behaviour described above is not uncommon and I met patients who would google their symptoms and the treatments before coming to my clinic.

While it is good to be knowledgeable about mental health and other health conditions in general it is important to remember that Internet websites are not meant to give you a diagnosis.

That exactly is the job of a real doctor, one who studied medicine at an accredited university and has enough skills and knowledge to understand what mental illness is and how to make a diagnosis.

I can see the temptation to search the Internet instead of booking an appointment with a psychiatrist who may ask you personal questions or you may have unnecessary fear of the assessment session.

These fears may stem from the media or the experiences of other people around you. You may fear being judged or called “crazy” by other people if you are found to be seeing a psychiatrist.

While googling one’s symptoms is not limited to mental health issues in my opinion. It has worse impact, possibly due to the special nature of mental health problems and the fact that people who experience them may be more suggestible and prone to take advice from non-professionals.

I remember a young patient who was suffering from anorexia nervosa, a psychiatric problem where a person “usually a young girl” refuses to eat for fear of gaining weight and becoming fat even when she is clearly underweight and in some cases undernourished.

The patient uses extreme forms of starving and excessive exercising to lose weight. Some use pills to make them urinate more.

This particular patient was finally stable after months of therapy, she joined a Facebook group for girls with anorexia, the group members started bullying her and calling her a “traitor” because she was gaining some weight.

They even taught her new tricks to lose weight and “cheat the doctors.” Sadly her condition deteriorated and she lost all the progress she made simply because of the bad influence of that Facebook group.

The Internet is full of information but not all of it is true or genuine. We all remember during Covid how fake news became common and conspiracy theory believers were spreading lies about the origins of the virus and the safety of the vaccines and how many people died because of this fake news.

Therefore, one has to be very selective of the sources of the information he gets especially when dealing with health related issues. Please don’t diagnose yourself, leave that to the doctors.

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