By Drishti Patel
As a society, due to the advances in medical research and technology, it is inevitable that we are able to better identify and label our problems and symptoms. Good, right? We are becoming more aware and educated about the way that the human body works, scientifically, giving a reason for the way that the body functions.
Whilst this is something that is exciting and intriguing for all, with the chance to build on our knowledge and help ourselves, it is becoming more and more common that we, as individuals, are becoming more hyperaware of ourselves and our health. In fact, we are now using social media and online sources to help us diagnose ourselves, focusing on small and minute problems we may notice. These, whilst on the surface, seem like really small issues, are having a massive effect on the healthcare system itself and individuals too.
With the pressure growing on the NHS, the added fears of patients generally, continue to add more weight to the waiting lists for diagnosis. With the lack of staff within the NHS system, it continues to grow further and further, leaving many vulnerable and helpless.
Let us begin by discussing the effect that hyperawareness has on one’s health in the UK. It is common that approximately 1 in 20 people have some type of anxiety difficulty at any one time in terms of health anxiety. This is rising as we talk due to the reliance that people have on Dr Google which has increased because of the lack of comfort individuals have felt in seeing a GP or the need to seek comfort as soon as possible to feel relief. With Google being at the tip of our fingertips, it is one of the easiest ways to find all sorts of information without leaving your comfort zone.
However, due to the vast amount of information available, it only goes to show the most common to the rarest types of illnesses, leaving many questioning and doubting their well-being, leaving many spiralling, worrying about their health and then prospering to worry and anxiety. With the adaptation of online consultations (especially the heavy reliance on this during the pandemic and even post-COVID-19), and long waiting lines to see the GPs alone, online consultations with Dr Google have become one way in which people have been able to find some peace and autonomy in being able to care for themselves as well as find the ‘answers’ straight away.
This is surely not too bad and we can all think of a time when we have found comfort in researching a certain thing to gain clarity and some relief. However, the complete reliance on and full belief in online information has a massive impact on individuals. These tend to cause a lack of trust in medical staff due to the reliance on these platforms which, in some cases, leave patients thinking that the healthcare professionals are lying to them. Nevertheless, Dr Google is not the only devil out there that continues to sell these horrifying dreams to patients.
As we have entered the age of social media (or at least the expansion of social media use), we see the mass use of TikTok and Instagram and the growing audience they have. The New York Times found that people are using the TikTok app as a search engine, trying to build more knowledge and see the different opinions on the topics they want to find out more about. Medical students, surgeons and other professionals are also sharing information on the human body and well-being with their audience, feeding the viewers sometimes with more ‘signs’ to look out for and making individuals hyperaware of their bodies. Seems like a good idea, people becoming aware of many health conditions like Jameela Jamil sharing her own experiences and spreading awareness of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) has helped to make people more aware and mindful that some struggles are not as easily displayed or explained. Similarly, the awareness that has been built for ADHD and trying to understand the neurological disorder has helped many get diagnosed and understand behaviours better.
Notwithstanding, with this, you have content creators creating challenges like ‘put your fingers down if…’ that tend to describe or present vague symptoms that may be experienced by patients, planting a seed of doubt in people’s minds and then leading to the cycle of doubt and spiralling (in some cases) where individuals are either convinced and see their GPs for more information on these issues.
The concern is not that we are becoming more caring with our bodies, but it is the fact that there is a growing pattern of self-diagnosing and not believing the medical professionals, making it difficult for the services trying to provide healthcare. A personal account shared by Ibrahim Mohamed, also known fondly online as Ibz Mo, about his ADHD diagnosis shared that the waiting list for being diagnosed was over two years and ended up going private. For many, paying a large sum for a diagnosis is something that they cannot afford, which further disadvantages some. In most cases, it continually leads to affecting the ability of the quality of work that can be done by the individual.
There is a growing ‘fashion’ of self-diagnosing due to the growing impact that social media is having on individuals. Social media is great for starting or expanding conversations and exposure so that these areas have more support and the wider society is more aware. Dr Nighat Ariff has been creating more awareness in the area of female Healthcare, especially in reducing the stigma around female reproductive healthcare and well-being. Similarly, with the rise of Dr Karan Raj on Tiktok, now Instagram is something that has helped bust myths, help the consumer to understand the inner work of surgeons and also help with tips and tricks on what to look out for.
Most importantly, these doctors continuously work hard to make sure that information that we consume is accurate as possible and backed with evidence. The most recent example of this was the reply that Dr Raj got on the anti-choking device, which was gaining lots of attraction but does not have much evidence to back that it was a good enough device to help. Instead, Dr Raj, went on to research, prove that it was an unsafe device and instruct his viewers on how to safely help someone choking.
Overall, it is more about the nature of the way that hyperawareness of health is becoming more trending. The use of social media, the amplification of fears and the overuse of generic and very vague health information are leading to panic for many young and old people. There is a middle ground. The use of these platforms is not a massive issue but making sure that there is more fact-checking being done to make sure that ‘challenges’ are not becoming one of the reasons for the increase in the waiting lists, but giving a chance for all of us to get good care through the NHS, that are already stretched thinly and need all the help they can possibly get.