The SouthtownStar posted an article about “Google-itis,” which is a cutesy term for Internet-fueled hypochondria and/or self-diagnosis. It hit home a bit, as it made me think of a loved one going through the same thing. Hypochondria aside, “google-itis” can be dangerous.

I know several people suffering true social anxiety (some worse than others) for various reasons. A loved one close to me has been battling his own for years. A few years ago, however, he found what he thought to be a great resource: an internet forum for social anxiety sufferers.

At first I thought it was a good idea. There he could commiserate, gauge the intensity of his own suffering compared to others for context, vent, etc. I didn’t bother reading any posts on the forum myself. That was a mistake.

After awhile, listening to his descriptions and having read a few posts myself, I began to feel uneasy. It looked like a lot of self-diagnosis with no moderation by knowledgeable people. But it seemed to be helping him, so I only mentioned (several times) not to take people’s opinions there as gospel – they’re sufferers, not psychologists (or pharmacists). After all, I reasoned, the biggest problem with psychological problems is that we can’t see our own problems objectively – we can’t see ourselves from outside our own minds.

It’s only recently, however, I’ve been relieved to hear from his own mouth that this forum is bad news. I would call it dangerous. Virtually every thread is full of self-diagnosing wanna-be pharmacists, describing the interactions of these drugs with brain chemistry (using general terms) as if they fully grasp these complex systems with no degrees whatsoever. There are no psychologists serving as moderators. There are no volunteer pharmacists to debunk misinformation or gently explain that individual brain chemistry is far more complicated an issue. There is no voice of reason to tell someone firmly, “you don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re giving people dangerous advice.”

No, their information comes from what they’ve read online. They describe how they use this drug and that, mixed with a little of this or that, augmented by that, etc. Some make recommendations about what medications another should try. Some even go so far as to recommend illegal drugs (with no mention of precise dose and no references to how these drugs actually achieve the purported affect), heedless of the possible disaster for someone with psychological problems. I’m not an anti-drug crusader or anything (I think the “war on drugs” is a colossal failure of public welfare), but it doesn’t take much intelligence to see what a bad idea this is.

Photo by cottonbro

Some of the advice amounts to, “you should augment tricyclic antidepressants with LSD.” Yeah, that’s a great idea. I can see it now, “Works for me … I haven’t murdered a kitten with a staple remover in weeks!”

Yes, I’m conflating anxiety and psychopathy for comedic effect, but here’s a fun fact: “social anxiety” can be a satellite condition around a more serious general psychological issue.

What’s most dangerous about forums like this is, like anywhere else online, all some ass-hat has to do is use the relevant terminology (correctly or incorrectly, it doesn’t matter) and speak authoritatively to make the sheep follow. These sheep, however, are desperate for a solution for a real problem and since “psychological problems” can also include messiah complex and narcissism, this combination makes the ass-hats with an audience all the more dangerous.

I’m happy to say my own loved one has seen this for what it is, but if you suspect someone in your life is falling into the “google-itis” trap (whether for hypochondria or a true illness), it’s up to you to point out what a dangerous idea it is to put their faith into a “resource” where any ass-hat can claim to be an expert.

Hypochondria can be funny – even endearing – most of the time. Googling the psychopharmacological advice of self-described experts who suffer psychological illnesses themselves is a bad idea.

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