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Tom Greene: The ‘Self-Diagnosed’ Generation

Despite living in one of the most optimistic times in history, younger Americans are more afraid of the world than previous generations.

Some of this fear emanates from the near-constant stream of news and information. Younger folks tend to see that news as black or white, good or bad—while the rest of us understand that assessing risk isn’t as simple as just good or bad. There is a tremendous amount of gray-area uncertainty involved.

We all know the formula for driving ratings and clicks in the news biz: fear. That fear has created an entire generation of anxious young adults. As a result, 42% of young adults have some sort of mental health diagnosis.

The Downside of Destigmatization

The good news is that we’ve made huge strides in destigmatizing mental health. There is little shame or disgrace in anxiety and most other mental health conditions today, particularly with younger adults.

Here’s a young woman named Makayla sharing a video of how many medications she takes for her mental health conditions. TMI?

But, is it possible that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction? Young people share their mental health diagnoses with co-workers, bosses, and acquaintances. Something older generations wouldn’t dream of doing, then or now

Too Much Information? (TMI)

Isn’t it ironic that the kids who brought us “TMI” don’t seem to understand what it means? Some youngsters use the TikTok video/social media platform to share the most intimate and personal information about their lives.

Here is a young woman in a TikTok video telling millions of people that she has just found warts on her genitals. (1.4M likes) I can’t make this stuff up.

TikTok can be a non-judgmental platform for open conversations about mental health. That’s good, but TikTok is often the virtual Town Hall to declare a “self-diagnosed” health condition. A condition like like bipolar disorder or autism. Yes, I said “self-diagnosed”. That’s bad.

That self-diagnosis will be met with millions of affirmations from other self-diagnosed strangers. Strangers with absolutely no clinical education, training, or experience at all. Strangers who also claim to have bipolar disorder or autism.

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

Thousands of young people have posted TikTok videos with the hashtag #self-diagnosed autism. This viral video of a self-diagnosed autistic person has 17.6K likes.

Do you think, in an effort to destigmatize mental health, we accidentally created an entire generation of emotional hypochondriacs?

A Badge of Honor

Yes, declaring a self-diagnosed condition like bipolar disorder or autism has become a badge of honor, of sorts. That self-diagnosis then becomes a part of your identity. #bipolar #self-diagnosis #anxiety

This self-diagnosis trend reminds me of elementary school when someone got a cast. You secretly wished you would break something and get a cast, too. A cast was cool. A cast was a badge of honor. So were braces and eyeglasses. But you cannot diagnose an arm that isn’t broken any more than you can diagnose autism by searching Google.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Yes, increased awareness around mental health is a positive step, but the simple truth is that thinking or talking about your anxiety all the time makes your problems grow. Obsessing over your “pain,” your “trauma,” or your “diagnosis” is the opposite of healthy. It’s called rumination and it’s unhealthy. So, what’s the answer?

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

When young adults begin to self-diagnose themselves, maybe it’s time to ask some questions. We could start by asking:

Have you gone outside today?

Did you get at least 5,000 steps?

Have you been bed-rotting or did you get out of bed and do something productive before 10 am?

Are you properly hydrated?

Did you limit your doom-scrolling and Social Media time?

Did you eat well today?

Did you get enough sleep last night?

Chances are good that the answer to these questions is “no”. But, these are common-sense questions that can likely reframe the conversation away from trying to diagnose a condition without a medical degree.

The Big Finish

So, let’s recap what we’ve learned, shall we?

First, we’ve done a great job of destigmatizing mental health in the younger generation. Good for us.

Second, in an effort to remove the scarlet letter, we may have jumped the shark (gone too far). Our young adults are now using their many diagnoses as a part of their identity.

Third, TikTok has become the de-facto town square for disclosing all your mental health conditions to the world—something earlier generations wouldn’t dream of doing.

Fourth, to create a “badge of honor,” many young adults are self-diagnosing with conditions like autism and bipolar disorder. No Doctor necessary.

Fifth, attention-seeking younger adults are creating disorder labels for many everyday things that make all of us anxious. Your anxious memories of a tough social scene in middle school are not signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (#PTSD). Being anxious about a test isn’t generalized anxiety disorder (#GAD). These things are just a part of growing up and do not need a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Perhaps the answer is for these young adults to go out and touch some grass, to get some fresh air. Perhaps the answer is to put down that smartphone and get out of bed. Perhaps the answer is to stop making videos that cause you to ruminate over the things in life that you cannot control. Yes, life is full of moments that make us a little uncomfortable. Putting a fake medical diagnosis on your feelings is not the answer.

The Big Favor

I’m a team of one. No entourage or security detail. I research and write purely for the joy of starting thought-provoking conversations. I rely solely on referrals to grow my audience. If you know someone who enjoys thought-provoking conversations, forward this article and encourage them to sign up here.

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