Dr Google says you are suffering from “Cyberchondria”
The researchers noted that there is a correlation between anxiety about one’s health and hypochondria, such that online research on topics related to one’s health can induce high fear and anxiety. The phenomenon of cyberchondria.
Following the digital revolution, the search for information about physical and mental health is the third activity on the Internet (Fox, 2013). Although the Internet and, specifically Google as a search engine, is a valuable source for seeking medical information, the result is on the one hand the increase in anxiety, fear or obsessive-compulsive behavior, especially in tendentially phobic personalities (Aiken , Kirwan, Berry & O’Boyle, 2012; Norr, Albanian, Oglesby, Allan, & Schmidt, 2015). On the other hand, the risk of relying on Dr. Google is that of self-diagnosis. Numerous within cyberspace are, in fact, medical and psychological forums in which the same users, without skills, confront each other on symptoms and cases of diseases, forgetting the whole subjective dimension.
In particular, the researchers noted that there is a correlation between anxiety about one’s health and hypochondria, such that online research on topics related to one’s health can induce high fear and anxiety (Aiken et al., 2012 ). These links have led to a conceptualization of the term “cyberchondria”, which refers to an escalation of concerns about mental or physical symptomatology dependent on the review of online research results (Starcevic & Berle, 2013; White & Horvitz, 2009 ). On a terminological level, ‘cyberchondria’ derives from the contraction between ‘cyber’ and ‘hypochondria’.
Searching for information about your health via the Internet, however, can have positive and negative effects on people. Online forums can be effective in sharing, for example, by encouraging people to exercise more or to adopt healthier eating habits, or to adhere to drug therapy: in these cases, the search for information on the state of health on Google it can lead to positive results (Mcelroy & Shevlin, 2014).
On the contrary, such efforts in finding information could increase the uncertainty related to diagnosis, or concerns about the accuracy, relevance and reliability of information: these are the negative effects (Starcevic & Aboujaoude, 2015). Furthermore, Norr et al. (2015) suggested that anxiety sensitivity and intolerance towards uncertain situations are potential risk factors for cyberchondriacs (Norr, Albanese, Oglesby, Allan, & Schmidt, 2015).
Cyberchondria, therefore, is a state of high alarm concerning the discomfort regarding one’s health due to searches for medical information in the virtual context (McElroy & Shevlin, 2014). From the theory of cyberchondria, one immediately notices how the search for information, on the one hand has a reassuring function, on the other, the person enters a vicious circle, in which he is not satisfied with the information collected and therefore intensifies the search, in order to to also verify its truthfulness and accuracy.
In this regard, a cyberchondria assessment tool, called Cyberchondria Severity Scale (CSS), was built. CSS (McElroy & Shevlin, 2014) is made up of 33 items and five subscales:
The instrument has good psychometric properties (Selvi et al., 2018). Attention to this new dimension of hypochondria allows you to deal not only with the physical but also the mental health of people, especially in times of health emergency, such as that experienced in relation to Covid19.