It’s probably completely untrue that there is an epidemic of self-diagnosis, but in the style of the mainstream media I have used single quotation marks to absolve myself of any responsibility to accurately report the situation.
There have been some interesting discussions recently on the Bad Science forums that have touched on self-diagnosis. One thread had a comment relating to the seeming fashion for parents to label their children as having a learning disorder when in fact they were simply not performing academically as their parents hoped they would. This had apparently led the commenter to conclude that dyslexia didn’t exist. I’m no expert on dyslexia (or any other disorder), but those who are seem to be able to make a good argument that it does exist and I have absolutely no reason to doubt them. My purpose here is not to cast doubt on whether any particular condition exists or to downplay any suffering felt by people who have any condition, disorder or disease (I suppose particularly those with more serious forms). What I am interested in is looking at the phenomenon of self-diagnosis. Another comment on another thread made the point that “if the writing of Douglas Coupland is to be trusted there was a fad for folks involved in technological stuff and computing to self diagnose themselves as autistic” and this is really what I want to discuss. I’m not saying that everybody who has diagnosed themselves as x, y or z is wrong, I just want to talk about those that self-diagnose without justification really. And that it seems to be a fad.
I have known girls and women who have claimed that all men are “somewhere on the autistic spectrum” (although God only knows what they actually meant by that), I have heard people who once would have been referred to by the truly horrible word “zany” calling themselves bipolar, anyone who swears “has a touch of Tourette’s” and (to give an example of a condition that is not mental/emotional in nature) we all know someone who, in the grip of a heavy cold, has claimed to have ‘flu. The cold/flu one is possibly easiest to untangle – unless you are a nasty grey colour and feel like you are going to die, it was probably a cold.
Why is it so attractive to label ourselves? Do we think it excuses us in some way? For example, we may feel that if we claim we have mild Tourette’s we will be given more leeway in our language. Or does it simply ‘feel better’ to have a label that we can attach to ourselves? I’ve read accounts of patients being relieved to find out they had a specific condition/disease, because it was somehow less scary than having a bunch of symptoms.
As Coupland apparently said, there seem to be fads for self-diagnosis of certain conditions and this is even more interesting than the general tendency to self-diagnose. Why on earth should it be fashionable to label oneself dyslexic, autistic or bipolar? It shouldn’t be anything to be proud of (nor ashamed of), it should just be or not be. So what’s the deal folks? If you have ever claimed to be ‘a bit number dyslexic’ or ‘moderately autistic’ without any justification then I would love to hear why you think you may have fallen into self-diagnosis – I’m baffled, but interested.