With more than a billion users, TikTok is now a fun place to gain insight into new trends. You can create, share, and discover many new things by utilizing this application. However, some information found on social media in general should be taken with a grain of salt. One concerning topic that is floating around on TikTok contains hashtag #borderlinepersonalitydisorder. Some news sources have reported that this hashtag has been viewed over 600 million times, leading many teens to believe this is their diagnosis; possibly because they have experienced several of the symptoms.  It is important to know that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) it is estimated that about 1.4% of the United States population experiences borderline personality disorder (BPD). Therefore, an individual’s chances of having that actual diagnosis may be rarer than one would think.

Some other disorders reported to have gained popularity in self-diagnosing are conditions like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), autism disorder, etc.  According to Harvard Medical School Doctor Robert Brooks, he and other psychologists rarely diagnose bipolar disorder in teens because their brain is still in the developing stages, which can lead to certain imbalances in emotions, which is normal.

This article is not intended to discredit or invalidate anyone’s personal feelings or beliefs regarding their mental health situation. This is intended for informational purposes so the reader can gain an understanding of how certain mental disorders are diagnosed. It is also important to understand that self-diagnosing can be dangerous.

What is Self-Diagnosing

Self-diagnosing happens when individuals reach their own conclusions about their condition based upon information they’ve read from a single or multiple sources. Currently, we have a web of knowledge at our fingertips, and it is often easy to Google signs and symptoms which can lead to inaccurate assumptions about our mental health. Here are a few dangers of self-diagnosing:

  • You may miss a medical disease that mimics a psychiatric disorder. (e.g., Lyme disease, Thyroid Disorder, etc.)
  • In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many disorders have similar symptoms, therefore a differential diagnosis must be made (which is usually best done by a licensed mental health professional).
  • Self-diagnosing may lead one to think their condition is worse (or lesser) than it really is.

How Mental Health Diagnosing Works

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is a handbook used by Mental Health Professionals; it was published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is used to diagnose mental health disorders. It contains descriptions of symptoms, feelings and behaviors over a period of time, along with other criteria that must be met to receive an official diagnosis of a particular mental illness.

It also provides a common language and consistency for researchers who study mental disorders. Of course, a licensed mental health professional will consult the DSM prior to making a diagnosis. However, there are several other factors that contribute to the diagnosing process. Here are a few ways in which a mental health diagnosis may come to fruition:

  • Gather Information: A medical/mental health professional may interview the individual or family member(s) (whoever is present) about history or signs and symptoms.
  • Rule Out/Narrow Down Options: Often certain conditions will need to be ruled out prior to making a diagnosis. Certain tests may need to be performed (e.g., Beck Depression Inventory (BPI), Schizophrenia Tests and Early Psychosis Indicator (STEP), etc.)
  • A diagnostic impression is formed: Some individuals may experience co-morbidity (more than one diagnosis)

The more accurate the diagnosis, the more likely you are to develop an appropriate treatment plan, or strategies for managing your symptoms.

 A Few Ways to Help Your Child/Teen Address Mental Health

Although self-diagnosing can be dangerous and has the potential to lead one down the wrong treatment path, it does not mean the signs or symptoms someone is presenting with should be ignored. If you are the parent of a child/teenager who has this experience, this may be an opportunity for you to create the space for them to communicate what they may be going through.

  • You can start by validating their feelings about their mental health, regardless of diagnosis.
  • You can share with them the dangers of self-diagnosing.
  • You can let them know they are not alone in the situation even if it feels like they are.
  • You can encourage them to speak with a professional in a confidential setting.
  • Ask if they think a break from social media could be helpful.

Other Resources:

By, Ashley Vazquez, EAP Counselor, MFT