Just Had or Want a Clinical Diagnosis?

by Jenni Brooks
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

A proper clinical diagnosis is often seen as an important step in terms of mental health recovery.

But could a mental health diagnosis also hold a person back?

The good side of a mental health diagnosis

For many of us who are living with mental health conditions, getting an accurate diagnosis can be a blessing.

Finally, there is a reason as to why we think and behave a bit differently from those around us, and why life just seems to be that little bit harder for us. We might even find comfort in knowing that there is a whole community of people who have the same diagnosis as we do, which might make us feel just a little bit less alone in our struggle.

A diagnosis can also mean that mental health professionals can devise a treatment plan. It can help them work out what talk therapies might help, and if you need any medication.

How a mental health diagnosis can go wrong

1. It can affect your sense of self.

Mental illnesses affect the mind, which in turn affect how a sufferer sees themselves and the world around them. Being told your mind isn't working well can leave you feeling ungrounded.

2. It can feel minimising.

It might also make you feel as if you aren’t being listened to, or are being saddled with a diagnosis that doesn’t accurately describe the complexity of your specific issues.

Unfortunately a diagnosis is just a term to describe as best as possible a group of people with similar symptoms, and can't account for individuality.

3. You can feel limited by your diagnosis.

A diagnosis may also make a you feel less able to turn your negative experiences around and create change for yourself. For instance, a person struggling with addiction might be less inclined to change their self-destructive behavioural patterns, if they know that their issues stem from a personality disorder.

You might decide to overlook your power to create change, and use the excuse that you are powerless due to your biochemical make up. You give up making efforts that might have actually created results for you.

What really matters when it comes to diagnosis

In a 2018 review of perspectives on mental health diagnoses that looked at 78 different studies from 13 countries, researchers concluded a diagnosis helps or hinders a client depends on the approach used.

It points out that a "diagnosis could be experienced as 'labelling', which had consequences for stigma and discrimination'".

On the other hand, a diagnosis means you get access to the psychological therapies that can truly help.

What the review found mattered, if a diagnosis was to be helpful, was that it be given in a format ""emphasising hope, identity, and empowerment." You should be encouraged to discuss stigma, and offered support for it.

How to get a useful mental health diagnosis

In summary, if you are seeking a mental health diagnosis, who you decide to go to for help really affects your experience and how you move forward.

Do your research to find a psychiatrist who is registered, has good reviews and feedback, and is experienced and passionate about working with people with your issues.

And remember, a diagnosis is just one mental health professional’s opinion on why you sometimes find life more challenging. Mental health diagnosis or not, you are still a human, with a range of complexities, just like everyone else.

Not sure if you do or don't need a clinical diagnosis? Book a session with a therapist now who can give you their educated opinion and help you navigate any issues you might be struggling with.

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