Disclaimer: this post is not intended as medical advice.
Before I got a medical diagnosis for anxiety and depression, I self-diagnosed. There were many things about my mental health that I couldn’t explain. For instance, why would I, as a child, always worry rather than being carefree like other kids? Things that shouldn’t necessarily affect a child’s thought process always found ways to affect me, keeping me up at night and distancing me from others. When I was a teenager, and certain symptoms continued to affect my life to the point of making it hard to function, I started doing my own research, which is when I came across the words “anxiety” and “depression.” I wasn’t in a place where I could get an official diagnosis but learning how people navigated their lives with depression and anxiety helped me in my day-to-day life, even if I wasn’t sure my mental health aligned with these illnesses. All I knew was that I felt the way the symptoms were described and looking up ways to cope with anxiety and depression helped me.
Come college, when I was able to seek a medical diagnosis, I was not at all surprised when I was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I felt relief from the official diagnosis, but also felt a sense of gratitude for the actions I took in my past. If I had not connected with resources regarding anxiety and depression growing up, I wouldn’t have been where I was today.
It is not lost on me, however, that I wouldn’t have been able to get such a diagnosis and professional care if I was not in a college environment that offered free mental health resources and care, and for many, going to college and having access to these resources is not an option. Even though I had to wait for a very long time, I do consider myself lucky and privileged that I was able to get a diagnosis.
It’s important to understand how certain marginalizations can make it difficult or near impossible for medical diagnoses. For example, within the medical field, there is a staggering amount of racism inflicted upon Black people. I have seen Black people face mental health discrimination that makes it difficult to seek treatment. Black kids who have learning disabilities and disorders are seen as class menaces rather than as people needing help. Instead of extending possible resources and concern for mental health and wellbeing, teachers typically see conduct infractions. Perhaps a Black child isn’t bad, lazy or uncaring—perhaps they have anxiety, ADHD, depression, or autism. But when Black children are viewed as problems rather than as in need of support, then it is hard to even begin thinking of pursuing a diagnosis.
Self-diagnosing also helped my sister, who recognized anxiety and autism within herself before getting an official diagnosis for both. She was able to find resources to help her cope and deal with certain mental health symptoms that affected her day-to-day life before she could finally afford a diagnosis. I am going through something similar now, and slowly building up to be able to afford autism-related testing (with my sister’s help).
Self-diagnosis is the only way I was able to stay afloat all those years prior to my medical diagnosis. For people who are in environments where a medical diagnosis isn’t possible, or for people in communities that are often ignored or mistreated by the mental health field, self-diagnosis can be a key to mental health accessibility. It’s more than just looking at google and deciding you have a mental illness, disability, or disorder. Self-diagnosing can mean spending months or years learning about your personality traits or mental habits that directly impact how you go about your daily endeavors. It is about finding help or ways to manage your symptoms. When you’re able to do this, it makes finding resources—free resources in some cases, such as Self-Help Techniques for Coping with Mental Illness or this list of ways to seek help—easier until you are able to (if possible) find professional help.
It’s important that as we advocate for understanding mental health and bringing resources into communities, we recognize that self-diagnosing as a first step is a matter of accessibility.
If you or someone you know are in need of mental health support, please reach out for support.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
En Español: 1-888-628-9454
For people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741