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Cyberchondria: How The Internet Can Affect Your Mental Health

| Reviewed By Dr. Alex Maliekal

It is not something new, it is not something unknown. We are all guilty of experiencing a possible symptom and rushing over to the computer screens to self-diagnose. However, what we see on the screen often scares us to death - yes, we've all been there.

We may go in with minor symptoms such as a headache or a body pain and come back with a disease so severe, you may wonder if you are really in mortal danger. And this feeling starts gnawing at you, making you extra cautious; which could have been avoided with a visit to the doctor. And this feeling or phenomenon is termed as cyberchondria.

What Is Cyberchondria?

Cyberchondria, also known as compuchondria is a phenomenon which causes an individual to be mentally affected by researching health symptoms on the internet. It is termed as the online version of hypochondria, an abnormal chronic anxiety about one's health [1] . As Dr Alex said, "it is the unwanted escalation of fear/worry about the common symptoms that one may have as a result of an extensive review of search results. The word has been derived from the blend of two words Cyber and hypochondria."

A cyberchondriac is an individual who compulsively searches the Internet for information about particular real or imagined symptoms of illness [2] .

People who are usually prone to cyberchondria are those who have experienced something like the loss of loved ones or having a close person diagnosed with a serious health condition. Even new mothers can get cyberchondria as they tend to look for information available on regarding the health of their newly born baby.

The Impact Of Internet On Your Overall Health

In the modern era of cinch information accessibility, anything and everything is available to us at the tip of your finger. One-click - and everything you want to know is spread right in front of you. With information being available just a mouse-click or finger-swipe away, we are exposed to limitless thoughts and ideas [2] .

Not everything available on the internet is the right information. Written and edited by people just like us (well, some may be a tad bit more brainy), the information can often be misleading. According to studies, at least 55 per cent of the global population has searched for health information online in the past year, with many of them trying to self-diagnose a medical condition [3] .

Another study asserted that, out of the 55 per cent, at least 10 per cent were affected by the results acquired, paving way for fear and anxiety. This can further escalate into severe mental health problems, with the levels of anxiety escalating to risky levels [4] .

No one is at fault for letting the information get to one's head as there are binding reasons to justify the extra worry every one of us has when it comes to our health.

The era of internet and information exchange has indeed been a boon to all of us. But, now that we are connected and closely-knit that ever before, everything from all corners of the world is available to us. Apart from this, our brain tends to notice the negative facts more than the positive as they are structured in a manner so that there is greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. Most sites tend to produce information that are the worst-case scenarios for financial gain, without considering the impact it can have on an individual's mental health [5] .

Are You A Cyberchondriac?

No one is safe from the plethora of information provided by the internet. Here are some of the signs which indicate that you may have cyberchondria. The symptoms of cyberchondria are as follows [6] :

  • Checking symptoms for diseases on the internet for 1 to 3 hours every day.
  • Checking the internet for ailments for even longer hours on your bad days.
  • If you develop the fear of having some severe disease.

Risks Of Cyberchondria

Most of us are too concerned about our health, it results in ending up being less healthy because of the stress and tension. This obsession with health tends to raise the anxiety of the person and one needs to consult a health expert to deal with the condition.

People often end up misdiagnosing themselves by searching the information regarding medication and treatment available over the internet. The symptoms that you are researching about can be similar to the symptoms of another condition. The best thing to do is to consult a health expert for the best health advice to cure your condition [7] .

Treatment For Cyberchondria

When it comes to treating this condition, one needs to understand that nothing can substitute the treatment that a doctor gives us when we are sick. If you are over-concerned about your health, the best thing to do is to go to a health expert and get their opinion about the same instead of self-diagnosing. Doing so will help in curbing the issue better and it will also help in letting you know what exactly is wrong [8] .

An individual suffering from cyberchondria requires cognitive behavioural therapy, a type of psychotherapy in which a person's negative thoughts about oneself and the world are challenged to change the behavioural patterns.

Psychotherapy also helps in getting over the habit of reading health-related information. It's advised that you refer verified websites only. No matter what you read, don't believe it blindly or start following it right away, do take an expert's advice before you plan to start following whatever you came across [9] [10] .

View Article References
  1. [1] Batigun, A. D., Gor, N., Komurcu, B., & Erturk, I. S. (2018). Cyberchondria Scale (CS): Development, validity and reliability study. DUSUNEN ADAM-JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY AND NEUROLOGICAL SCIENCES, 31(2), 148-162.
  2. [2] Doherty-Torstrick, E. R., Walton, K. E., & Fallon, B. A. (2016). Cyberchondria: parsing health anxiety from online behavior. Psychosomatics, 57(4), 390-400.
  3. [3] Starcevic, V., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015). Cyberchondria, cyberbullying, cybersuicide, cybersex:“new” psychopathologies for the 21st century?. World Psychiatry, 14(1), 97-100.
  4. [4] Fergus, T. A., & Spada, M. M. (2017). Cyberchondria: Examining relations with problematic Internet use and metacognitive beliefs. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy, 24(6), 1322-1330.
  5. [5] Barke, A., Bleichhardt, G., Rief, W., & Doering, B. K. (2016). The Cyberchondria Severity Scale (CSS): German validation and development of a short form. International journal of behavioral medicine, 23(5), 595-605.
  6. [6] Norr, A. M., Albanese, B. J., Oglesby, M. E., Allan, N. P., & Schmidt, N. B. (2015). Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty as potential risk factors for cyberchondria. Journal of Affective Disorders, 174, 64-69.
  7. [7] Starcevic, V. (2017). Cyberchondria: challenges of problematic online searches for health-related information. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics, 86(3), 129-133.
  8. [8] McElroy, E., & Shevlin, M. (2014). The development and initial validation of the cyberchondria severity scale (CSS). Journal of anxiety disorders, 28(2), 259-265.
  9. [9] Selvi, Y., Turan, S. G., Sayin, A. A., Boysan, M., & Kandeger, A. (2018). The Cyberchondria Severity Scale (CSS): Validity and reliability study of the Turkish version. Sleep and Hypnosis (Online), 20(4), 241-246.
  10. [10] Anandkumar, S. (2015). Effect of Pain Neuroscience Education and dry needling on chronic elbow pain as a result of cyberchondria: a case report. Physiotherapy theory and practice, 31(3), 207-213.
Alex MaliekalGeneral Medicine
MBBS
Alex Maliekal

Read more about: internet mental health
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