The Internet is no doctor substitute

Reporter: Kelsey Braithwaite

You can hear it in the halls or in Psychology classrooms. Professors teach their students terms and conditions, and moments later, light bulbs go off in a student’s mind.
“They begin to think, ‘maybe I’m this, maybe I’m that,’” said Jessica Clarkson, a part-time Interdisciplinary Studies professor at Durham College. “It can be dangerous because someone who actually has [a disorder] may not be taken seriously.
“I call it First-Year Psych Syndrome,” Clarkson said.
It is her explanation for a lot of students self-diagnosing at the college and university.
Students need to keep in mind a diagnosis needs to come from a credible source. This is why, many times, students are warned away from the temptation of “Dr. Google.”
“It can be negative in the sense that [students think], ‘I have bipolar disorder. I’m an expert on bipolar disorder now.’ If you look up any type of symptom off of Web M.D., you’re going to end up at cancer. So you do have to critically evaluate what you’re doing.”
Catharine Watkins, first-year social event planning student at Durham’s Whitby campus, takes it very seriously.
She took a Psychology course and became attracted to neuroscience and what motivated peoples’ actions. She often takes personality quizzes, like Myers-Briggs, to understand more about herself.
“They give me positive aspects about myself and tell me areas that I tend to have problems in and should be aware of,” Watkins said. “As long as you go into it with a very honest mindset and willingness to be open [the tests] are very accurate.”
Terms like bipolar, borderline personality disorder or OCD can be thrown around a lot, and maybe without enough understanding. “[Self-diagnosing] can be helpful if you look at some symptoms and say, ‘Okay, this symptom is not okay. Let me go get help and talk about it,” Clarkson said.
Mental Health Nurse Mary-Alice Harvey at the Whitby Durham campus sees self-diagnosing in the same positive light.
“It heightens ones awareness to seek self-reflection,” Harvey said. “Through the number of apps that get posted, like the Bell Let’s Talk [program] people can say, ‘you know what, I have been a little testy with people. I have had problems concentrating. Maybe I do need help.’ It puts you in a situation of questioning what could be happening. It causes you to reach outside of that box.”
Let’s Talk is an annual Bell program that donates five cents for every Bell customer text, tweet, and Facebook comment to Canadian mental health programs.
More apps and resources similar to Let’s Talk are becoming available to students. The Healthy Minds app, through the Royal’s Do It For Daron (DIFD), helps deal with stress by tracking emotions. Good2talk.ca is a free and confidential helpline geared to post-secondary students across Ontario.
“The important part is to normalize [mental health] and take away the stigma,” Harvey said. “You can always relate it to a physical thing. If you notice a mole that’s getting bigger, and you Google it, you can go to the doctor and take action.”
Clarkson had her own self-diagnosing experience. She had suspicions about her health, so she made sure to visit her doctor. He was able to clarify her situation, which made her so happy she smiled wide – and then feared he would think she needed more medical support than he previously thought. But it was vital that Clarkson did not let her Psychology degree convince her of anything before she asked a professional as many questions as she could.

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