Pros and Cons of Social Media Self-Diagnosis in the U.S.

Anything and everything can be found on social media, including diagnoses for those lingering symptoms you're curious about.

A new survey from Tebra notes 25% of individuals use social media to self-diagnose. Anxiety and depression are the two leading conditions respondents diagnosed themselves with, followed by ADHD and autism.

It is no surprise that depression was the most commonly self-diagnosed condition in Tebra’s survey. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds the number of United States residents suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40% of Americans suffered from anxiety or depression in February 2021.


Another domino effect caused by COVID-19 was fewer Americans obtaining medical care. One study found 41% of respondents skipped the doctor from March to July 2020. Fear of exposure to COVID-19 was a key factor in preventing Americans from visiting their primary care physician.

Due to business closures, work from home, and hesitancy of exposure in public places, social media use increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tebra Creative Strategists Rachel Kirsch believes it is no surprise their survey shows Americans are using social media to self-diagnose medical conditions.

"It’s likely that diagnosis via social media increased during the pandemic," Kirsch says. "Not only because people were less likely to go to a physician but also because there was such an increase in the number of people using social media and the amount of time they spent on social media."

Thirty percent of the Tebra respondents who utilize social media for self-diagnosis are a part of Gen-Z. Following Gen-Z in social media diagnosis are Millenials at 26%, Gen-X at 20%, and baby boomers at 15%. TikTok served as the most popular app for Gen-Z Americans seeking medical advice. The app has become popular for various health trends surrounding weight loss. YouTube served as the most popular source for self-diagnosis among Millenials and Gen-X’ers, while Facebook was the biggest hit among baby boomers.

Tebra finds Tumblr, Tiktok, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook as the top social media platforms with diagnosis content for survey respondents. The top three recorded benefits of social media diagnosis included increased awareness, reduced stigma, and chances of early detection. Meanwhile, the biggest downside to social media is the chance of an incorrect diagnosis.

Of the survey participants who diagnose based on social media content, only 43% sought the advice of a medical professional. Despite this, Kirsch believes there is no need to fear misdiagnosis due to social media voices who may not have the right medical credentials.

"While less than half of people seek a medical professional's opinion after self-diagnosing, 82% of those people have their diagnosis confirmed," Kirsch tells Healthnews. "So while seeking the input of a medical professional is certainly encouraged, the low level of incorrect self-diagnoses suggests that negative side effects of inaccurate self-diagnoses aren’t presenting a substantial problem. Additionally, 88% of people believe that medical content not created by a medical professional should carry a warning, which might see lower levels of self-diagnosis based on information completely devoid of a medical professional’s opinion."

The survey from Tebra included 1,000 respondents, featuring 579 millennials, 259 Gen-Xers, 93 baby boomers, and 96 from Gen-Z. Tebra’s mission is to assist independent practices by bringing the power of modern care to patients.


Social media use warnings

From health advice to sports highlights and from breaking news to the latest opinions — social media has it all. However, some of the negative effects of social media are beginning to take effect. Some studies suggest that spending time on social media can negatively affect mental health and increase the risk of depression.

Social media can also lead to symptoms of body dysmorphia. An investigation from Temple University found students aged 17 to 25 had a more positive view of their body appearance when they reduced time on social media.

Although social media can be tempting, it is important to take a break. A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology finds 30 minutes per day is the perfect amount for social media use.


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