If you are starting treatment for substance abuse or mental illness, you will most likely find yourself presented with a diagnosis. A diagnosis is a term used to describe a set of symptoms and it carries implications for treatment. Being given a diagnosis can bring forth conflicting emotions and raise complicated questions. Therefore, it is important to understand what your diagnosis means for you and your care. 

The Diagnostic Process

When you first meet with a mental health provider, they will perform a series of assessments. These can be more formal assessments that involve filling out questionnaires or surveys that are then scored. They can also be less formal and take the form of the clinician asking you questions. These questions generally address the following content:

  • Your symptoms
  • The severity of your symptoms
  • How long you have been experiencing these symptoms
  • The events that preceded the onset of your symptoms
  • Factors that alleviate or exacerbate your symptoms
  • The effect that your symptoms have on your life
  • How you cope with your symptoms

Mental health professionals use your answers to these questions to arrive at a diagnosis. They will reference the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, to assist in this process. The DSM contains all diagnosable mental health conditions with their associated symptoms and the criteria for diagnosing an individual. Some conditions require someone to display a certain number of symptoms for a certain period of time. 

It is possible to be diagnosed with multiple mental health conditions simultaneously. Many conditions have overlapping symptoms and occur together frequently. It is particularly the case that substance use disorder (SUD) is often accompanied by other conditions, such as bipolar disorder or depression. Additionally, diagnoses can change. You may make enough progress in treatment that you no longer meet the criteria for your previous diagnosis. In other words, diagnoses are not set in stone. 

How Can a Diagnosis Help Me?

A diagnosis is an important tool in the treatment process. This is because a diagnosis can help direct an effective treatment plan. Having a certain diagnosis does not mean that there is only one treatment available. Additionally, it also does not mean that any particular treatment is guaranteed to work solely because of a certain diagnosis. There is tremendous variation between individuals who have the same mental health condition. With that said, receiving the appropriate diagnosis provides a fundamental place to start. It also has implications for insurance coverage of your treatment. 

Fosters Collaborative Care

A diagnosis can also help with continuity of care. When you are receiving mental health services, there are often many people involved. In addition to a therapist or counselor, you might also be working with a case manager or physician as well. Having a diagnosis can provide the different members of your team with the right language to describe your condition and facilitate collaboration. 

Encourages Specialized Treatment

A diagnosis is also a helpful piece of information if you are transitioning between providers. For example, if you are seeking a new therapist and are able to tell a potential candidate that you are looking for help with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they can determine whether that is something that they are equipped to treat or if you would be better suited with another clinician. They may even have a professional contact that they can refer you to. This can save you time and energy and streamline the process of finding the appropriate mental health professional. 

Deepens Personal Understanding of Symptoms

Having a diagnosis can also provide you with a better understanding of yourself. Some people struggle with symptoms for long periods of time without having the words to describe those feelings. This can be an isolating and frustrating experience. Having a diagnosis can help you to identify those symptoms as part of something that can be named and treated. 

Provides Community

A diagnosis can also provide a sense of community with others who live with a particular mental health condition. There are support groups and forums tailored toward particular diagnoses, like depression or anxiety. Having the right name for what you are experiencing can help you connect with others who are in your shoes. This can provide a sense of companionship and enable you to learn from and support one another. 

Common Concerns About a Diagnosis

Some people have concerns about what a diagnosis might mean for them. Much of this stems from the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions. There are certain stereotypes attached to conditions like SUD or bipolar disorder. If you receive a diagnosis tied to negative perceptions, it could cause you to worry that you will be reduced to those stereotypes. Stereotypes are a crutch that people use when they do not understand something and are not interested in learning more. Further, the misconceptions that other people have about your mental health condition do not define you. 

Having the right diagnosis can set you on the path to recovery. A diagnosis can tie together the disparate symptoms you may be experiencing and guide you toward the appropriate support. While you cannot be reduced to a diagnosis, having the right terminology for what you are experiencing can help your mental health professionals help you. Additionally, it gives you the right language to advocate for yourself and find community. Family-Centered Services can help you and you family as you navigate this journey. Our licensed clinicians are equipped to assess your needs and connect you with the right resources to put recovery within your reach. Call (509) 991-5822 to learn about how our services can support your recovery.