self diagnosed

Photos and words by @abbystrangward

A couple of months ago, I had my first experience in a therapy-type situation. It was my school counselor – I’d requested an appointment weeks ago, and since forgotten. Last period, I was given the little green slip that everyone knew was an appointment with the guidance counselor. 

Heart racing, I composed my face and left class with my books. Several minutes later, I was sitting in a low chair, facing a kind woman who just wanted to ask me a lot of questions.

And I hated it. 

Every time we broached the subject of why I was there and how I was feeling, my stomach twisted, and I dug my nails into my palm, a reflex reaction when I’m uncomfortable. I stuttered and struggled through vague explanations of what had lead me to schedule an appointment, barely made direct eye contact, and kept my answers as short as possible. 

Even now, typing this, my body is twisting in on itself, anxious and uncomfortable. 

Nearly half an hour later, she stood with a smile, and asked if I wanted another appointment. I said no, but thank you, and I left.

I thought – what do I do now?

‘Self-diagnosed’ is a term thrown around a lot, generally in negative contexts. If you’re unfamiliar - it means believing you have a mental illness, and treating it accordingly, despite never having been medically diagnosed. 

Mental illness is over-romanticized, and over-generalized. You see it in everything from social media to general parlance; ‘self-help’ tumblr posts, poetic depictions of ‘depression’, and phrases like that ‘gives me anxiety’ and ‘triggers my ‘ocd’’. 

So, when you’re surrounded by a world that tosses around mental illness in such a casual context, you begin to pick up on symptoms in your own life. How can you not? You’re constantly exposed to romanticized versions of mental illnesses that teach you to see your own natural, fluctuating moods as debilitating issues. 

The flip-side – those who pick up on real symptoms in their day to day life, but feel they can no longer trust their assessment of the situation, because of the hype surrounding mental illness. 


Do I really have a mental illness, or am I just jumping on the trend? Is this an urge to self-harm, or am I just trying to fit in? I have that symptom of depression – but not that one, so do I really have a problem? Am I feeling suicidal, or just overwhelmed? 


Self-diagnosis is common with those who do have mental illness, and those who don’t. And both are just as unlikely as the other to seek help. 

It took me close to a year to work up the courage to attempt to talk about how I was feeling. For that time, some days were better than others – some weeks were better than others. Three times, I chatted online through an eHeadspace hotline. Finally, I asked to see my school counselor. 

I thought I would be comfortable with a stranger. I wasn’t. 

Since then, I’ve been better than I was – not because of her, but simply because of my own attempts to manage my feelings. I’m going well. I am. But sometimes everything falls apart again, and I get sucked back into what feels like a never ending spiral. 


Why do I feel like this? Is this normal? Is this a part of being a teenager? Am I over-reacting? Am I being dramatic? Should I tell someone? Will they laugh? Am I being stupid? Am I making this up? Am I making this worse than it is?


Despite all logic compelling me to speak up, indulge in my concerns, and trust that I know myself best, I still have not spoken to many people, and none completely honestly.

I dread turning back to a counselor. I dread going to someone I know and love even more.  

See - 

I am not scared I might have a mental illness.

I’m scared of being wrong. I’m scared of talking about my concerns and later learning it was never anything to worry about. 

I am scared of being labelled as ‘self-diagnosed’. 


Am I just trying to hop on the trend? Am I trying to seem special? Do I want a mental illness?


As much as mental illness is generalized - as is self-diagnosis. 

It’s seen as needy. Attention-seeking. Most commonly, I hear it in reference to ’12 year olds on tumblr’. 

I am not self-diagnosed. But I’m close. And every time I hear the term thrown around with laughter and an eye roll, words scrape at my throat. 

Because I am afraid to talk. 

What is self-diagnosis?

What is it to you?

Is it attention-seeking? Trend-hopping? Label-searching? 

What do you think of people who are self-diagnosed?

Weak? Confused? Unhappy? Desperate to fit in?

Why do you think they self-diagnose?No, really, why?