Trisha Paytas, Mental Illness, and the Self-Diagnosis Debate

by thethreepennyguignol

A few days ago, Trisha Paytas released a video. The internet’s most dedicated full-time troll, it’s not exactly as though she’s a stranger to controversy, but this video hit that internet sweet-spot and soon blew up in a big cloud of outrage. In it, Paytas claimed to have Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID), which, she mentioned, she had diagnosed herself.

Now, there’s enough controversy about this video without me adding in my wildly unqualified two cents in with regards to whether or not Paytas is making it up or not. But something about that mention of self-diagnosis pricked up my ears – it’s a concept that I’ve heard of a few times before, especially with regards to mental illness (which is what this article is going to be focused on). And there’s a lot of debate out there about the validity of self-diagnosis as a valid or invalid method of approach to disorders like DID – whether they’re an acceptable way to go about diagnosis, or whether a professional is the only person we should listen to when it comes to mental illness.

So, first and foremost, I think it’s worth noting that I do think that there is a place for identifying and responding to mental health symptoms that have manifested in your life. There are valid and damn good reasons, in this hellscape in which we live, why reaching out to a professional for a diagnosis isn’t something that’s available to everyone – cost, location, stigma – and, in those circumstances, I don’t see much wrong with acknowledging what you’re going through, and taking steps to address it, even if you don’t have the brand-stamp of professional involvement to name it.

I have been through periods of depression in my life outside of the ones that I have had diagnosed by medical professionals; I could recognize them for what they were, and I could take steps to do what I could to try and make their impact on my life less catastrophic than they had been before without a doctor telling me what it was. I doubt that anyone is out here arguing that we should fumble blindly around inside our own brains, pretending not to see obvious problems therein because we haven’t had a doctor give them a name.

But where self-diagnosis begins to worry me is when it becomes a standard that’s encouraged over seeking professional treatment when that is an option. Outside of a therapeutic setting, it’s hard to uncover the treatment that works best for you in managing the symptoms of your illness. Sure, there are certain approaches to treatment which are well-documented online and accessible to people who might find them useful, but without someone trained in administering that treatment, finding the one that fits – and applying it with the approach that’s required for it to work – is kind of a crapshoot. Not to mention that finding appropriate medication, if that’s something that you need to work with to handle day-to-day life, is difficult enough even when you’re working with a doctor. It took me a few shots to get on to the right SSRIs when I was first diagnosed, and I can’t imagine the fumbling mess I would have made of taking care of it had I not had people who knew their shit to guide me.

Not to mention the fact that our understandings of certain mental illnesses can be clouded by popular and current representation of those illnesses; from Shane Dawson and his gross misunderstanding of ASPD to DID in Split, certain depictions of mental illnesses have a huge and measurable impact on the way that we view mental illness. I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which was diagnosed in a clinical setting about a year and a half ago.

Like I wrote recently, misunderstandings about the disorder are so widespread that they have started to infect the way we actually view that illness; I know that OCD isn’t the only mental illness the understanding around which has been influence by pop culture, and there’s no way that this doesn’t effect how people define the illness to themselves, and perhaps influences the diagnosis that they choose to attach to themselves. Many people have pointed out, for example, that Trisha Paytas recent video came out directly in the wake of an Anthony Padilla release focused on Dissociative Identity Disorder, a video which Paytas herself referenced in her announcement (and featuring a collaboration with DissociaDID, a really excellent and informative channel that focuses on DID and trauma psychology).

Something that does bother me, though, about the dismissal of people who self-diagnose, is the notion that they’re attaching themselves to certain mental illnesses because they want the attention that comes with them. Now, maybe this is just a hangover from my teenage self-harming self being dismissed in a similar way, but searching for attention via such extreme means is rarely something that’s as simple as it seems. If someone is declaring themselves to have a serious mental illness based on their own interpretation of how they feel, brushing it off as nothing but attention-seeking seems counter to the point. Whether the disorder they’ve identified is an accurate representation of what’s going on or not, a self-diagnosis looks a lot like a request for help.

More than anything, though – finding the name for something that you think is wrong with you is not where it ends. Really, that’s it starts. Yes, there is a value to knowing what’s wrong with you, even in just finding a community who understand the same issues that you’re dealing with. But that value, for me, came not just in the diagnosis, but in knowing that I could pursue treatment based on that, that I wasn’t stuck with living with just the name any longer. I think that self-diagnosis can be a start for people who are beginning to address their problems, and who may not have access to more formal healthcare available to them. But I don’t think, whether your diagnosis comes from an external sources or not, that’s where it should end. It’s how you respond to a diagnosis that really matters, how you address the problems that it’s injecting in to your life that defines what comes next.

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(header image via Distractify)