Everyone is turning to the internet these days for advice on everything, from clothes to shoes to treatments for mental health conditions. Google searches about anxiety and panic attacks are common, along with diagnosing simple things like cold and flu symptoms, even to asking whether a loved one has a substance use disorder. Millennials are particularly interested in the use of “Dr. Google” for mental health support. They like to check online where they can research healthcare providers’ backgrounds and even read reviews about the provided services before they visit a real doctor. Convenience and privacy are personal reasons for some turning more to online searches for mental health, but other factors may seem harder to resolve.
Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions
Millennials are not the only ones struggling with their mental health, but they are unique in how they handle symptoms. They are less likely to seek help for it and more likely than others to use substances to navigate the challenges of mental health conditions. Substance-related issues and depression have gone up, along with other co-occurring disorders. Students on college campuses are accessing counseling services for support but are still afraid to reach out due to stigma around mental health issues.
“Untreated” Health-Related Issues
People who are living in college dorms are often isolated from other adults in their lives. Students are cloistered together on campuses that now provide all the amenities and conveniences of off-campus living. This makes it easier to never venture beyond school property. Separation from family and loved ones has a way of putting a student’s untreated mental health issues into the spotlight. When they have anxiety symptoms like sweating, nausea, and dizziness, they may become scared and unsure of how to navigate the symptoms. It can also lead to an escalation of symptoms based on what they read online, which isn’t always accurate. The negative connection between the internet and mental health is nothing new. Increased usage has been found to increase the likelihood of feeling depressed and anxious. It may also increase the risk of misdiagnosing or altogether missing a vital diagnosis that can save their health (and their life).
Why They Seek Help
Looking for help in the “wrong places” or online is not necessarily going to cause problems for people unless they have a severe illness. If their symptoms are a mild cold, then they probably won’t be causing harm to themselves. If they are struggling with mental health and substance use issues, they may postpone treatment if they find an answer they don’t like or don’t want to “out” themselves to others and admit they think something serious is happening. Every time a millennial picks up the phone, they find support in the form of communities that can encourage them to seek help. They may educate themselves on the way to get help, how to do it, and even where to turn for support. All this information can be helpful, but it can also be triggering for people who are navigating severe health issues. Feeling sick, tired, or suffering from depression and anxiety can make reaching out for help seem unrealistic or just too much to deal with. Using “Dr. Google” is more accessible and seems less complicated than an intake phone call or numerous office visits.
Sharing in Community
One of the ways millennials connect most is through the internet. The internet is not an adequate mental health treatment facility, and the information gathered online may do more harm than healing. The internet, while a fabulous tool, is not able to diagnose people with specific and complex disorders, nor can it tell someone how to seek treatment. More than one-third of American adults have used the internet to self-diagnose a medical problem. Doctors confirm a suspected self-diagnosis sometimes, but often people are receiving false or misleading information, so it is best to not make assumptions by going online. Fortunately, many healthcare providers have implemented some web-based tools of their own, offering limited services via the internet replacing “Dr. Google” with trained, licensed professionals.
College students who can share what they are going through often release the stigma surrounding substance use disorder more quickly. The social stigma of mental health issues on campus is pervasive, and many would rather suffer in solitude than risk ostracism. Mental health issues primarily arise when people are in their early 20s. They may feel out of control and alone, but they need professional guidance to help them find support. Releasing the stigma is important, so they feel they can move forward and find hope. Mental health issues become less stigmatized the more people reach out for help and find others like them who suffer similar challenges. Even though online support is gaining popularity, and continues to evolve, it is not the best answer for students seeking help for mental health and substance use support. The more stigma is released by sharing stories with professionals, the more likely it is people will find help and continue to grow in recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.