Can (or should) you test yourself for addictions online?
Testing Mental Health Online
A quick Google search for alcohol addiction test, eating disorder test or tests for nearly any mental health problem brings up tens of thousands of results. It seems the web is brimming with tests to help people self-diagnose a myriad of conditions.
After spending far more time than I would like to admit reading and taking these tests, I found that many of them are useless while others may be misleading. Clinical assessment of drug problems is normally facilitated by a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist. So, I found that the problem often lay in who provided the test. For instance, some rehabs had tests on their website. These were not industry approved and they often produced completely useless results. One test I filled out actually said I was an alcoholic despite the fact that I do not drink at all.
This got me thinking, how can you identify a good test and how much trust should you place in online tests in the first place? To answer this question I came up with 4 criteria to find the best online mental health tests. These are:
- Where is the test hosted?
- Who created the test?
- Who scores it?
- What does it recommend?
CRITERIA 1: Where is the test hosted?
My first criteria for any test is “Where is it hosted?” What type of site is it on? If it is on a reputable government website, the site of a leading charity or from a reputable rehabilitation centre, it has a better chance of being accurate. All of these types of sites have guidelines for what they can claim, what they can say, and how they can handle your information. A good way to check the quality of a rehabilitation centre is to look at its CQC rating (For English rehab centres). Tests that you find on social media or other sites are often flawed.
CRITERIA 2: Who created the test?
The second criteria is. “Where did it come from?” This means understanding who created the test. A good test like the GAD 7 which measures anxiety was created by professionals and is an industry standard for many mental health experts. If a mental health test does have a name or other information provided it is very difficult to tell how accurate it is. Taking one of these tests is rather like walking up to someone at random and asking them to diagnose your mental health issues. Sure they could be a professional but it is pretty unlikely.
CRITERIA 3: Who scores it?
The third criteria for judging mental health tests is, “Who scores it?” A good test will either explain the scoring system used or allow the test taker to score their own results using detailed instructions. If an online tests simply asks questions and then produces a diagnosis, it should probably not be trusted. The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. Some online tests will claim you have a problem no matter what answers you choose. These tests are often just designed to encourage people to call a hotline or other company selling treatment.
CRITERIA 4: What does it recommend?
The final criteria for judging online mental health tests is, “What does it recommend?” A good test will recommend speaking to a medical professional. This could be your doctor or mental health treatment expert. A reputable treatment centre may also have treatment professionals on staff to help. Any other recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt. Remember that a good mental health test is designed to be evaluated by a professional. Taking a test yourself simply cannot provide enough information to make a proper diagnosis.
Mental health evaluation is a professional tool
Remember that mental health evaluations are tools that can help you understand the type and severity of your condition, but just like any other tools, they work best in the hands of someone who is trained to use them.
(Full disclosure: Brad Girtz Works at the Life Works Community treatment centre for addiction, depression, eating disorders and other mental illness.)
Photo credit: Wiki Media Commons