How to Properly Utilize Self-Diagnosis

Filed under: Mental Health, Tutorials/Guides

If you grew up on Tumblr when it was at the height of its popularity, you probably ran across blogs where the bio would list a thousand different mental health conditions. Often, you would find that these conditions were self-diagnosed in some way. Due to the young and volatile crowd that would be on Tumblr at the time, self-diagnosis ended up getting a bad reputation in general for being used to excuse poor behavior or to get some sort of online street cred. Even today, in the age of TikTok, people will claim random behaviors like listening to the same song over and over again is a symptom of ADHD, which only fuels this bad rep.

However, I think that if you endeavour to use self-diagnosis as a tool to deal with your personal mental health issues, it can be a big help. In this guide, I'll be trying to give some tips on how to accurately self-diagnose and how you can use your diagnosis to help yourself.


The first step to self-diagnosis is to accept that you might be wrong.

While, yes, you might just hit the nail on the head when seeking proper treatment, keep an open mind that you might be wrong about certain things. Without proper training, only a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist can accurately diagnose you. For example, for a brief period of time I thought I might have had some form of OSDD, but as it turns out I was experiencing secondary structural dissociation as a result of C-PTSD. This is because some of the dissociative symptoms having similar identity distorting effects.

For these reasons, it's important to say things like "I think I might have (insert condition here)" when you choose to discuss your condition with others so you can be honest with both yourself and them. Try to avoid taking an authoritative stance when discussing your condition. Sometimes it might even be better to just discuss things in terms of your symptoms.

It's also important to remember that having a diagnosis is not an excuse for your behavior. A mental health condition can explain why you feel and act the way you do, but it is your job to make efforts to improve yourself and treat everyone fairly. You can inform people in your life of your discoveries and provide them with helpful resources, but you should not expect them to accommodate everything.

Identifying symptoms

What specifically is bothering you about your mental health? Since the category of mental illness really contains a whole spectrum of disorders with different causes and effects, it's important to really nail down what specifically is bothering you. Consider making a list of emotions, thoughts, and even physical symptoms you might be experiencing. What specific thoughts are concerning you? Do you feel excessively sad, anxious, or angry? Do you find it hard to focus on things?

It's fine if you can't even really think of a whole lot. When I was very young, my research started by typing "why is everything always my fault" into Google. As I looked into things, I was able to identify a greater range of symptoms that were impacting my daily life. Oftentimes you will find out that things that you considered normal were not things that mentally healthy people would consider normal.

If you're REALLY having trouble thinking of symptoms, look through a list of mental illness signs and symptoms.

Narrowing it down

There are a lot of different types of mental disorders which affect different aspects of your life or mental state. Generally, each disorder will fit into a specific category based on common or overlapping traits. While it is a bit more thorough than the list I'm going to give, here are a few sections from the DSM-5 that you may want to consider.

  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders - These disorders affect one's brain development and will emerge in early infancy or childhood. Often, they will affect motor skills, information processing, language development, memory, social development, or emotions. This is what people refer to when they talk about being neurodivergent. (i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia)
  • Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders - These disorders usually involve some inability to differentiate what is real and what is imagined. Anyone with one of these disorders will experience some form of psychosis, which can manifest in hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, inability to make good/rational judgements, and inability to think clearly. (i.e. Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Delusional Disorder)
  • Dissociative Disorders - These disorders involve a consistent loss of material connection to reality. Symptoms can include development of multiple personalities, feeling disconnected from one's own body, memory loss, loss of identity, feeling things aren't real. Dissociative disorders usually form in response to traumatic events in early childhood. In contrast to psychotic disorders, the loss of reality manifests more in feeling something is missing or disconnected as opposed to feeling something is there that shouldn't be. (i.e. Dissociative Identity Disorder, Depersonalization Disorder)
  • Bipolar and Related Disorders - These disorders are closely linked to depressive disorders, in which a person will experience a manic or hypomanic period of extreme increased energy and activity followed by a major depressive episode. Symptoms of a manic episode can involve increased talkativity, racing thoughts, and impulsive behaviors like going on sudden shopping sprees. (i.e. Bipolar I, Bipolar II)
  • Depressive Disorders - These disorders include symptoms of low mood, irritability, fatigue, hopelessness, lack of interest in most activities, withdrawal from others, and inability to focus. (i.e. Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, Seasonal Affective Disorder)
  • Anxiety Disorders - The main focus of anxiety disorders is on anxiety (the anticipation of something bad) and fear (the response to a current perceived threat). The main differences between different anxiety disorders are between what induces the anxiety/fear. While anxiety is a common symptom across many different mental disorders, it doesn't necessarily classify a condition as an "anxiety disorder". (i.e. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias)

Keep in mind that I'm leaving out Personality Disorders, since those require a bit more precision to properly identify. Many are caused by childhood trauma at a young age and manifest in different ways, but they can get mixed up with things like PTSD or anxiety disorders sometimes. That's also not to mention how many resources online demonize these disorders, so tread carefully...

Using medical education websites

(i.e. Mayo Clinic, WebMD, NIMH)

This is usually where most people's research starts, and is a pretty good start as well. Many of these websites have symptom checker tools that will identify potential causes based on what you put in. Take the list of symptoms you made and input them into one of these websites. Usually the first 5-10 that pop up will be most fitting, so take your time to read through each page. I would recommend checking a few different websites to cross-reference information, because some websites will not be super thorough with their information. NAMI and Psychology Today are pretty decent sources of information on specific disorders.

IMPORTANT: Some of your results will probably include physical ailments, such as hyperthyroidism or sleep apnea. You may want to look into some of these as well, because your mental issues could either be caused by or result in the development of a physical condition. However, you should avoid self-diagnosing these and instead see a doctor due to many of these requiring assessments involving blood tests, sleep monitoring, etc.

Finding community & comparing experiences

Once you have a decent idea of what your condition might be, you should go out and start looking for other people who have it. For one thing, it's nice to not feel alone when you're dealing with a mental health condition. Seeking out other people who understand how things might affect you is honestly life-changing, especially since most people won't judge you for how you experience things. However, it's also helpful also for gauging whether or not you might actually have a certain condition.

Funnily enough, I think that Tumblr is actually somewhat of a decent resource when it comes to finding other mentally ill people. While they've had a bad reputation for self-dx in the past, these days I find people share a lot of good information on what it's actually like to live with mental illness/disability. This is where I learned about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) and executive dysfunction from hanging around ADHD Tumblr. Reddit is also a pretty good alternative with there being entire subreddits for people who experience X disorder and they usually also have an accompanying Discord server. Many communities are welcoming even if you aren't sure if you actually have a certain condition and are happy to answer questions or suggest alternatives.

Seeking professional treatment

When pursuing mental health services, you have two options for getting the necessary care you want. These days, many doctors get a bad rap for not listening to their patients and believing they are "making up" whatever issue they're dealing with. Sadly, this also applies to mental health practitioners who sometimes believe you are completely healthy and just want mind-altering drugs. Therefore, one option you might consider is telling your practitioner that a friend or family member suggested you get help.

For more information on this particular method, check out Pain News Network's article on the topic. It's mainly geared towards those with chronic pain, but this advice can also apply to people disabled as a result of mental illness.

However in my own personal opinion, I find that method to really only be useful if you are in need of benzodiazepines or stimulant medications. Due to prescription abuse, doctors have made it increasingly difficult to get a prescription for these kinds of drugs, so you're usually gonna have to put up with alternative treatments (usually antidepressants/SSRIs) before your doctor even feels comfortable giving you any scheduled drugs.

In general, I think it's helpful to bring up your self-diagnoses if you decide to pursue professional mental health services, especially with a therapist. Usually your provider will ask you to explain what led you to that diagnosis, and it can either kickstart targeted treatment if you're right or otherwise let them know what symptoms are affecting you the most. Whether or not they disagree with your self-diagnosis, a good provider will listen to what you have to say and factor it into your treatment. If they completely dismiss your concerns, then it's a sign that you and this provider might not be a good fit, and you should look elsewhere for treatment.