Recently, I saw a livid Facebook post about self-diagnosing and how this apparently invalidates ‘real’ mental health problems. This viewpoint is nothing new. The internet is crawling with people who suffer from mental illnesses that they have been diagnosed with by mental health professionals, who resent those who have no official diagnosis, but who use the same diagnostic terms to describe themselves. I understand why this can be frustrating for people who have mental illnesses and I understand that there are people out there who certainly misuse diagnoses. Self-diagnosis can be unhealthy and risky and I don’t recommend it.
However, I cannot get behind the arguments of so many of the people with ‘real’ mental illnesses. In fact, I think the arguments many of them present are harmful, ignorant, toxic, hypocritical, and lack empathy on many levels. This disappoints me, because for the most part, in my experiences, people who suffer from mental illnesses tend be quite adept at taking their own experiences with adversity and turning it into compassion for other human beings. Their wisdom and empathy is more often than not, unmatched by most other people. The portion of mentally ill individuals who resent self-diagnosers surprises me.
I want to briefly note that I have never been diagnosed with anything. I talk about depression a lot on my blog. But if you read my early posts about it, you will notice that I preface everything by desperately assuring my readers that I use the term depression in non-clinical sense, because I am so afraid of someone getting on my ass about how my ‘depression’ isn’t real and how I am offending and invalidating ‘real’ depressed people. I don’t pretend to have been diagnosed. I don’t claim to have a mental illness. I do, however, know that I have, for years, had an unusually difficult time accessing the feeling of happiness, or often times, any feeling at all, it has impacted my life profoundly. I’m trying to get myself back. I’m trying to stop feeling numb. So I talk about my struggles and feelings online and I try not to offend anyone with ‘real’ mental illnesses. I am not someone who feels the need to self-diagnose though. So I stand kind of in the middle of this argument.
The reason I have never been diagnosed with anything isn’t because I’ve visited a bunch of mental health professionals and still received no diagnosis. No, it’s because I have grown up in an unsupportive family who doesn’t believe in therapy or counseling. They do not believe in sharing emotions, and don’t seem to even believe in mental illnesses. Asking my parents to see a mental health professional would put me in an emotionally unsafe place. To get caught visiting a mental health professional in secret, would be even worse. There is no emotionally safe way for me to receive help or a diagnosis until I am financially independent and living entirely separate from my parents. On top of that, I do not have the funding to spare to see a professional, much less repeatedly visit one. I don’t have a ‘real’ diagnosis because I have not had the opportunity to even come close to getting one.
What these “I hate people who self-diagnose” people do not seem to understand, is that not everyone has the privilege of seeing a qualified mental health professional. Not everyone has the privilege of having their emotional adversity recognized, identified and validated by a qualified individual. Not everyone has the privilege of receiving the help they need to heal, a prescription, a word to tell them that their pain matters. There is a massive population of mentally ill people who don’t even know why they’re struggling or how to get better. They think there is something wrong with them. They think they’re alone. Or worse yet, because of the “I hate self-diagnosers” party’s shaming and hate speech (yeah, I’ll go out on a limb and call it that), these people are forced to feel like their feelings do not matter, their feelings are invalid and as if they’re the villains because they’re apparently ‘trivializing’ ‘real’ mental illnesses.
It seems to me that if you face emotional adversity, and you’ve been lucky enough to have that emotional adversity recognized, you should be aware that you probably had that same emotional adversity even before you were diagnosed. Having a therapist tell you you’re OCD isn’t what made you OCD. You had OCD before that. If you didn’t, your therapist would not have told you that you have OCD. If you are mentally ill, you should also be aware of how crucial validation is, and how much it hurts when you are blatantly invalidated. If you want others to make you feel validated, you should put forth an effort to make other people feel validated, or, if that’s too much trouble for you, at least refrain from hurting and invalidating your fellow human beings. Mentally ill or not, everyone needs validation and kindness. Insisting that a person is not really mentally ill does not make harmful words and invalidation any more acceptable.
Your mental illness is not invalidated as soon as other people (mentally ill or not) say they have it too. It is always valid and real, because you feel it and it impacts you. You don’t have to feel threatened or trivialized because there are people using the same terms you use to describe your struggles, to describe their struggles.
There are so many self-diagnosing people who probably really do suffer from some kind of mental illness, and are lost and scared and confused and just want to know that there is a word for the emotional turmoil they are experiencing. You can argue that self-diagnosers are not qualified to claim they have a mental illness, but you are no more qualified to tell them they don’t have one.