Reading time: 7-9 minutes
What is a mental health diagnosis?
A diagnosis is a name that’s given to a specific set of symptoms that you’re experiencing, whether they be physical or mental. A mental health diagnosis is a bit more complicated because the symptoms of a mental health condition are not usually visible. As a result, the doctor must listen to your description of the symptoms and make a decision based on that.
A diagnosis might be something you feel is really important to understand the things you’re struggling with, but it also might not. It’s very often down to individuals themselves as to whether a mental health diagnosis feels useful or not. Some people prefer to have a label for what they’re going through, while others don’t.
Lots of factors come into play and if you’re not sure whether having something diagnosed is right for you, this article might help. As you’ll see, there are both pros and cons to a mental health diagnosis.
It can be a lot to take in! At the end of the day though, it all comes down to you as an individual and whether having a diagnosis is beneficial for you, and whichever feels the best way for you is absolutely OK.
- Getting a diagnosis gives a name to whatever you’re experiencing and allows you to make sense of it. This can be comforting, especially if you’re experiencing quite distressing symptoms. Once you have a diagnosis, it can be easier to see the tangible steps that you can take in order to recover or manage your symptoms.
- With an official diagnosis, doctors may be able to offer better support. A name for your condition can allow them to suggest treatment options that have helped others in the past, as well as provide you with access to specialist teams and services if needed. If you’re seeing more than one doctor or if you change GPs, a diagnosis can also improve communication between them.
- Having a label can be empowering and make you feel less alone. A diagnosis can help to bring people together who have the same condition, such as through support groups or online forums. Some mental health conditions can be debilitating and interfere with your everyday life, so a diagnosis can allow you to meet people going through a similar experience and get their outlook on things. You may even learn new ways of coping from them!
- Other people might be more understanding if you have a diagnosis, and they may be less questioning or judgmental towards how you behave or do certain things. While it would be great if everyone could be accepting and supportive no matter what, this sadly isn’t the case all of the time! A diagnosis allows people to attribute your behaviour or actions to your mental health condition, rather than you as an individual. In other words, they have a word to describe why you act in the way you do.
- If you have a formal diagnosis, schools and workplaces are often more willing to make adjustments to fit your needs. Sometimes, they’ll ask for a letter from your doctor stating your diagnosed mental health condition.
- A diagnosis can be important for people who want to travel. If you don’t have a formal diagnosis and a document from your doctor, travelling to different countries can become problematic and potentially risky. You won’t be able to go to any old pharmacy and pick up the medication that you need. You’ll have to explain your condition to a completely different doctor in that country, which can be very hard when you don’t have a diagnosis. Unfortunately, there’s the potential for your condition to be dismissed, which may mean that you’re not given the medication or emergency support that you need.
- Finding a diagnosis can be a lengthy and potentially stressful process for some people. This might be the case if you’re experiencing symptoms that are common across several mental health conditions, making it difficult to immediately identify a diagnosis. In other cases, you might be asked to record how you’re feeling over a long period of time before a doctor can diagnose you.
- Leading on from the point above, not all doctors will agree on a diagnosis, which can lead to more confusion than before. This can be especially difficult when different doctors suggest different medications, or when trying to explain your condition to other people who may not understand.
- A diagnosis can ignore external factors and focus entirely on the condition itself. If these areas are overlooked, such as your upbringing or challenging life experiences, it appears to group everyone with that mental health condition into one category. This can be harmful for an individual who is on their journey to getting support.
- You might find that your diagnosis doesn’t explain how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. If you don’t feel like the label you’ve been given is an accurate depiction of your experiences, it can feel frustrating to be bracketed within one group. It may be that a diagnosis “explains” something incredibly well, but often isn’t the full picture and might not “explain” everything that may be a worry or concern.
- Unfortunately, some stigma remains around certain mental health conditions. Although this stigma is reducing significantly, it’s possible that having a mental health diagnosis may lead to some forms of discrimination. Mind has a useful page all about your legal rights and advice if you think you’ve experienced discrimination due to your mental health.
Is either opinion right?
It’s ok if you think that a mental health diagnosis is helpful, and it’s ok if you don’t. There’s no right or wrong opinion – all that matters is what feels best for you!
Your feelings are valid if you don’t think your diagnosis is a good reflection of what you’re going through – it doesn’t define who you are, nor does it take away from the symptoms that you’re experiencing.
If you don’t agree with the diagnosis that you’ve been given, you can discuss this with your doctor or get a second opinion from another professional. Mental health diagnoses can be complex, so not all doctors will have the same views and one may think that another diagnosis is more suitable.
What might help?
Whether you have a diagnosis or not, there are plenty of support options available to help you cope with how you’re feeling. If you’re interested in pursuing a diagnosis, your GP is often the best place to start. They’ll be able to refer to the right service who can offer assessments.
You don’t need a diagnosis to:
- Talk to a trusted person. Opening up to someone about how you’re feeling can feel like a relief. Talk to anyone you trust, whether that’s a friend, parent, carer, teacher, youth worker, or someone else entirely. You don’t need a mental health condition to find this helpful – it’s something that everyone can benefit from!
- Find support online. Lots of charities and organisations have helplines and chat services, so you can talk to someone about how you’re feeling or ask for advice. A lot of websites also have online groups and forums, where you can share your experiences with people who are going through similar things – not all of these are diagnosis-specific. You can find a list of helplines and links to other resources here.
- Talk to your school or work. Not having a diagnosis doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re experiencing certain symptoms or having a difficult time. Telling your school or work about what you’re going through can help them to support you or point you in the direction of wellbeing services. This shouldn’t be reliant on a mental health diagnosis.
- Look after yourself! Regardless of whether you’ve been diagnosed or not, everyone deserves to find happiness in their lives and boost their wellbeing in whatever ways they can. Find the things that give you a break from any negative thoughts and bring you a sense of calm. You can also try to incorporate the 5 ways to wellbeing into your life, or use some techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Seek support from 42nd Street. You can access our services without needing a mental health diagnosis or a referral from your doctor. We don’t offer diagnosis ourselves, but we provide a number of face-to-face services, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what you want to get out of the support. If you want to chat to someone online via text, you can register for ongoing online support with one of our workers via our online support portal. We also hold weekly drop-in sessions so that you can speak with a worker without an appointment. Overall, every service provides you with someone who will listen, acknowledge your feelings, and work with you to develop ways to manage your emotions. You can read about our services in full here.
- Find out more info - Mind also has more information about understanding mental health diagnoses on their website.
By: Ruby Guyler
Other articles you may be interested in