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What’s a Self-Diagnosis Worth?

It’s often said that you can’t self-diagnose ADHD.

This statement is true. It’s true in a technical sense: only a doctor can give you an official diagnosis. It’s true in a legal sense: a self-diagnosis won’t qualify you for accommodations or protection from discrimination based on disability. And it’s true in a general sense: someone without extensive psychiatric training simply doesn’t have the expertise to rule out other possible explanations for symptoms.

DoctorSo does that mean a “self-diagnosis” of ADHD is worthless? I would argue not.

Many an actual ADHD diagnosis begins as a self-diagnosis. Looking over a list of ADHD symptoms, you realize “wow, this really sounds like me.” The more you research it, the more certain aspects of your life start to make sense, and the more convinced you become. Enter the “self-diagnosis.”

The key, though, is to go further. Take that self-diagnosis to a medical professional for a bona fide diagnosis. Use that self-diagnosis to make sure your symptoms are taken seriously and finally addressed.

So what if your doctor disagrees with your self-diagnosis? I think you should trust your doctor, as long as two conditions are met:

  1. Your doctor is knowledgeable about ADHD
  2. Your doctor addresses your symptoms seriously and comes up with some plan for dealing with them

An example of condition 1 not being met is if your doctor says something like “you have a college education, you can’t possibly have ADHD” or “people can’t be diagnosed with ADHD as adults.” An example of condition 2 not being met is if your doctor simply brushes your symptoms off altogether or doesn’t come up with an alternative explanation of them.

People don’t like the idea of “self-diagnosis” because, among other things, it seems to imply a sort of overconfidence: how could someone with no medical training possibly have the self-awareness and the psychiatric knowledge to diagnose themselves?

But the confidence that comes from a self-diagnosis can be useful when it comes to having the stubbornness necessary to work your way through the medical system and find someone who will listen to you and figure out what’s going on.

Basically, when you meet with a mental health professional, you want to go in with an open mind to letting them do what their trained to do, but also with the conviction to make sure that they take your experiences seriously. This might sound obvious, but I mention it because if you read through the comments on here or just talk to enough people with ADHD, you’ll find plenty of stories of people who were dismissed by one or more doctors before finally getting diagnosed.

Having said all that, I’m not a big fan of the term “self-diagnosis” either. For one thing, it refers to something that technically isn’t even possible.

I prefer to think of self-referral. You can’t diagnose yourself (even if you’re a medical professional!), but you absolutely can refer yourself for diagnosis and treatment. And that includes giving your doctor room to address your symptoms as they best see fit but making sure that your symptoms do get addressed.

Image: Flickr/Alex Proimos

What’s a Self-Diagnosis Worth?

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). What’s a Self-Diagnosis Worth?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Feb 2018
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