UAE: Did Internet diagnose you with depression? Why ‘TikTok doctors’ are dangerous

Relatable videos on social media, online questionnaires may not be accurate tools to diagnose mental health issues


Waad Barakat

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Published: Tue 2 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 2 Apr 2024, 7:40 PM

Emily (name changed by request), a 25-year-old Dubai resident found herself captivated by a TikTok video titled "Signs You Have Bipolar Disorder”. As she watched the video, a profound sense of recognition washed over her. She couldn't help but relate to the symptoms described in the video, feeling as though it was speaking directly to her experiences.

"I felt like that TikTok video was describing my life. It was like someone had taken my thoughts and put them into words," Emily told Khaleej Times.

Online surveys and TikTok videos have sparked a concerning trend of self-diagnosing mental health issues among individuals. This phenomenon, fuelled by relatable content and the ease of access to information online, has raised concerns among mental health professionals.

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The algorithm game

As Emily continued to engage with mental health content online, the algorithm seemed to amplify her exposure to videos related to bipolar disorder. She found herself scrolling through a stream of content that further solidified her belief.

"It was strange how many videos started popping up on my feed about bipolar disorder. It felt like the universe was confirming what I had already suspected," Emily added.

The relatability of these videos fuelled Emily's conviction, leading her to delve deeper into self-diagnosis and self-help resources. She explained: "Every video I watched made me more convinced that I had bipolar disorder.”

Taking tests and questionnaires

Leen, a 23-year-old Sudanese expat residing in Sharjah, found herself immersed in the world of online content regarding mental health. As a fresh graduate doctor, she was intrigued by the experiences shared by individuals in videos describing their battles with depression and anxiety. After watching several of these videos, Leen's curiosity led her to take online questionnaires and tests to assess her own mental well-being.

Leen. — Supplied photo
Leen. — Supplied photo

To her surprise, the results of these online tests seemed to align with her own feelings and experiences. Leen found herself relating to the descriptions of depression and anxiety symptoms, and a growing conviction emerged within her.

"The more videos I watched and the more questionnaires I took, my belief that I was dealing with depression became stronger. The symptoms they described resonated with me on a personal level, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I was experiencing the same struggles," said Leen.

As someone with a medical degree, Leen understood the importance of seeking professional help for an official diagnosis. However, she also found herself torn between her knowledge and the desire to explore self-help options.

"As a doctor, I know that a proper diagnosis requires a psychiatric evaluation. But I couldn't help but wonder if I could manage this on my own, at least initially. I felt conflicted, aware of the need for professional guidance but also tempted by the idea of finding ways to cope independently," she added.

The risk of self-diagnosis

Dr Aida Suhaimi, psychologist at Medcare Camali Clinic, shared the significance of seeking professional help and the potential risks of relying solely on online self-diagnosis.

Dr Aida Suhaimi. — Supplied photo
Dr Aida Suhaimi. — Supplied photo

"While online resources and social media platforms can provide valuable awareness and initiate conversations about mental health, they should not be seen as definitive diagnostic tools," Dr Suhaimi explained. "Mental health issues are complex and require specialised knowledge for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment."

She shared the story of a patient to illustrate the risks of self-examination and acting based solely on online information, emphasising the potential harm that can arise from misinterpreting symptoms and relying on self-diagnosis without professional guidance.

The patient was struggling with sleeping problems. He took to the internet to find answers and, based on the information received, self-diagnosed with depression. He began researching the side effects of medication, but the unreliable nature of online resources deterred him from seeking further professional help. Consequently, the patient resorted to self-medication with Panadol nights, gradually increasing the dosage over time. Unfortunately, his mood worsened over time, eventually leading to a true diagnosis of depression and anxiety.

"Inaccurate self-diagnosis can lead individuals down the wrong path, potentially exacerbating their conditions or delaying appropriate treatment," Dr Suhaimi warned. "It's crucial to recognise the limitations of self-diagnosis and to seek professional help for a comprehensive evaluation and personalised treatment plan."


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