Is a Diagnosis Important or Helpful?

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The discussion about mental health diagnosis wages on. Many find them punitive and question their need. Arguing they increase stigma; especially when it comes to more severe diagnoses such as psychosis. Others argue the need for them. They can have their uses in certain situations. For some people, perhaps those who have struggled with understanding what they’re experiencing. It can be reassuring or helpful. For others, their diagnosis may compound their feelings of anxiety or fears of stigma.

Find Your Tribe…A Diagnosis!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Crazy Ex Girlfriend. There’s a song called A Diagnosis. It captures the essence of why a diagnosis could be grounding or comforting. In the song, our protagonist Rebecca becomes excited about the prospect of a new diagnosis. After many that didn’t fit, and stigmatizing comments equating mental illness with weakness. Rebecca hopes the new diagnosis will finally provide a reason for the symptoms she’s experienced for so long. Likewise, she feels like a diagnosis with open a whole new world of people to her. Those with similar lived experience who are in a better position to understand her.

A Path to Better Treatment?

But, if we pay attention to the lyrics, there’s another undercurrent here. Rachel mentions the stigma that she’s faced. And feels it is worth the burden if she is correctly diagnosed. We know that some people may receive multiple diagnoses in their lives. Some fitting better than others. Perhaps, some no longer fitting us as our lives and selves evolve.

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With the hope of a correct diagnosis comes the anticipation of a more fitting treatment plan. Hopefully one made with the direct involvement of the person experiencing said diagnosis. For those who have been misdiagnosed or prescribed treatment which wasn’t the right fit. The need for accurate diagnostic tools. And a full range of effective treatments tailored to the individual are vital. Although, of course they are important to us all. And the hope of finally getting the right treatment cannot be underestimated

And yet, the accuracy of diagnosis, range of treatments and their accessibility continue to be an issue. So, whilst a new and hopefully correct diagnosis should be what we expect. And we shouldn’t settle for less. We do need to acknowledge it’s not a panacea. Even when the system works, there is no magic pill for mental illness. As with many physical health illnesses. Recovery takes time and is an individualised path built from a variety of building blocks. One step forward may be followed by two steps back. It can’t be rushed and it won’t be solved by a diagnosis.

For What Mental Health Recovery Means read here.

For How to Understand Fear of Mental Health Recovery read here.

Diagnostic Hesistancy

As above, getting the correct diagnosis can be a bit of a minefield. And understandably people may be hesitant to receive one. With a diagnosis may come better understanding of what is happening to you. A group of people who understand and the possibility of peer support. As well as, a more robust or helpful treatment plan.

But there’s also stigma associated with many diagnoses; if not all. People may fear what diagnosis they may receive. What treatments may be offered or even available. How others may react. And the impact of keeping their diagnosis private if they choose not to tell others. After all, it is our right what we do and don’t disclose. And then there is wider society to consider. Whilst education and awareness of mental health and mental health illnesses are improving. We are not quite as open-minded as we should be. And so, kindness and understanding is not always a given.

Does Diagnosis Have a Place?

Some people may argue, and indeed do argue, that diagnosis has a place. For example, to promote understanding of symptoms. To help medical professionals liaise with each other. And to ensure correct access to treatment. To a certain degree, I agree. To a panicked parent, a diagnosis for their child might be a relief. Or like Rebecca for herself. A diagnosis can explain symptoms they’ve found difficult to experience or manage. It might be the light at the end of the tunnel leading to better treatment. It may be helpful to provide your diagnosis when speaking to friends, family and employers. A short hand for your experience when you don’t wish to re-live or delve in to it. This can all be helpful provided it is met with empathy and understanding.

Diagnosis in the Hands of the Professionals

Likewise, among professionals, a diagnosis can be helpful. They’re low on time so it can be a short-hand. Giving a rough guide of what to expect with a patient. And, of course, guide the medical professional or even community member to more accurate signposting to statutory and voluntary sector organisations. But, again, we have to be aware of the impact of stigma.

Whilst diagnoses like anxiety and depression have gained more understanding. And are, arguably, less stigmatized. This isn’t true of other diagnoses or behaviours. And even among medical professionals they continue to be stigmatized. For example, self-harm as a behaviour (not a diagnosis) continues to be misunderstood. And people have often been met with misunderstanding and a lack of compassion. Or more severe conditions like schizophrenia which still carries a burden of stigma. Or Borderline Personality Disorder where patients can still be viewed as difficult. Although we know this is an unfair label. And then there’s the language around mental illness and treatment. Words like ‘non-compliance’ which suggest someone resisting their treatment. Rather than a nuanced conversation about what the obstacles are.

The Importance of Person-Centred Care

And even when diagnoses aren’t met with stigma. There’s still the need to acknowledge individualized experience. Whether we’re talking about the more understood diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Or the more misunderstood diagnoses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. My experience and sets of symptoms, the reasons why I experience the condition and my triggers. Will all be different to someone else. Whether or not we have similar life experiences, genetic make up or socio-economic and familial set ups.

So, whilst a diagnosis may suggest a set of symptoms which can signpost possible areas of treatment and support. It can also lead all of us, healthcare professionals, friends, family and community members to make assumptions. And the media doesn’t help with this. Sensationalizing certain diagnoses or people’s experiences of them. It’s a key reason why people still continue to associate mental ill health with violence. Although we know you’re more likely to be a victim of a crime than a perpetrator if you’ve got a diagnosis.

For The Crucial Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy (When Providing Support) read here.

For The 11 Tips You Need for Effective Listening read here.

So, Where Are We?

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

The argument over diagnoses and when they are appropriate or helpful is far from done. Which is just as well as I don’t think we’re nearer a conclusion. In certain situations they do seem to have a place. And can aid treatment and recovery. But if we want to reap the full benefits of using diagnostic terminology. Then we need the empathy and compassion to go with it. Among us all.

Receiving a diagnosis and knowing that your friends, family and peers will be supportive is a far cry to worrying about their reactions. Knowing that your doctor will diagnose you, but not make assumptions about what it means for you. Will aim to take a nuanced, person-centred and holistic approach to your treatment. And include you in the decision making and ensure you are informed. That’s a world away from a medical professional assuming that a list of symptoms or a label tells them all they need to know to treat you. Or a friend or family member reduces you to that same list. Forgetting the years of friendship and experiences you’ve had previously.

What are your thoughts about the place of diagnosis in mental ill health? Is it a help or a hindrance? As always, let us know below!

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32 thoughts on “Is a Diagnosis Important or Helpful?

  1. And both for and against a diagnosis. Well they may be helpful in understanding why you’re experiencing certain things I feel like once you’ve been diagnosed it puts a certain stigma on you and people treat you different

  2. Interesting post! I think a diagnosis is down to the person really. A lot of the times it’s helpful and can push you to learn more about different conditions but sometimes it can instil fear or even be the wrong one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. I couldn’t agree more! It’s definitely about where they’re getting their information from. Hopefully reliable sources will provide information that give hope and pathways for support. Rather than instilling fear.

  3. How do people expect to get the right support if they don’t at least have an idea of what their diagnosis might be? Unless you’ve been section, they can decline treatments they’ve been offered but don’t like. What would stop someone from being able to keep their diagnosis private? and couldn’t people just use the fact your seeing a therapist in the same way as exposing a diagnosis of stigma is the issue?

    1. It’s a very complicated topic. A diagnosis can definitely help people find the right support and it may help them advocate for themselves too. But we also have to be aware of why people might be hesitant to receive a diagnosis. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get one but we need to be empathetic and open-minded to their fears. They very well may be able to keep it private. It’s considered confidential information so it’s up to the person who they share it with.

  4. I think receiving my diagnosis was a turning point in my personal process, mostly because at least I knew what I was battling against. I also think hearing the diagnosis has brought me down a little more than I ever thought, but I think it’s probably normal and just another step of the process. Great article x

    1. I know having a diagnosis was comforting in some ways. It explained what was happening and made me feel like I was less alone. But sometimes it’s been a burden.

  5. A really interesting post. I think diagnosis can be both a blessing and a curse and individual circumstance and person plays a big role in how we view a diagnosis.

    Tash – A Girl with a View

    1. I like how you’ve summed it up as a blessing or a curse. It depends whose giving the diagnosis too I imagine and whose receiving it!

  6. As you say, the debate rages on, but I agree with you, a diagnosis isn’t always the answer. You might not agree and it might not be right either. Recovery does take time but it’s good to try and get as many informed opinions as well.

    1. Recovery is a journey! I’ve just written a post about this 🙂 I agree that people should have all the options and then can do what they feel is best for them.

  7. This is a great post showing both sides – for myself diagnosis are helpful as I find them a tool in access what I need next. I have many people in my life who see it as something to worry, or stress about so I’ve seen both sides. I think everyone processes diagnosis differently, and each diagnosis will impact people uniquely. Thanks for sharing this insightful post!

  8. You’ve raised some interesting points. I think its very much down to the individual. I’d personally want to push through for a diagnosis whereas my boyfriend says he would feel like there was a cloud hanging over him and he’d rather be oblivious.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. I agree each person needs to decide if it would be helpful for them and make an informed choice

  9. I love this post as you’ve shared both sides! I think a diagnosis can be helpful as then you’ll have more understanding to why you’re feeling a certain way and can seek treatment, but also, I can completely understand the drawbacks of knowing x

  10. For me a diagnosis was helpful because I knew something felt wrong with my body but not knowing what or what I could do to help was extremely frustrating.

    My diagnosis is down to a work place accident and so a diagnosis was paramount for the legal things I am going through currently.
    Thank you for sharing these interesting points about a diagnosis.


  11. Good article! I see the usefulness and necessity in some instances. They can be comforting and enlightening to the individual. However, I think they can be limiting. They can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the therapist has an impression that a diagnosis is hard to treat, or even untreatable, the client picks up on that. Definitely a mixed bag! Nice work.

    1. Yes it’s very true. I think people really need to think about whether a diagnosis will be helpful for them for accessing support etc. Or if it will be more of a burden to them.

  12. I think you’ve done a good job here covering the pros and cons of getting a mental illness diagnosis. On one hand, that diagnosis is valuable in getting the right care for the condition. On the other, the stigma and negative connotations that come with the diagnosis are a whole other mountain to climb.

    1. Thanks Melissa. I really think it’s a topic which needs more discussion. But I’m so glad you felt like I covered it well

  13. Hmm. In some situations, people pin their hopes on a diagnosis as if it will be a life changer but often it is not. This is a complex discussion and I love your blog.

  14. Great article. My son, who has suffered with anxiety for years, and received counselling at college and school never had a proper diagnosis. He was also too young to take medication. Now he’s starting uni he’s had one and the support now is brilliant. It has its place definitely 😊

  15. I think diagnosis is important. The real problem is when lay people or people at a distance assume a diagnosis. Only you and your doctor are in a position to accurately identify what is happening.

  16. I think for some the success of a diagnosis (i.e. it being helpful and positive, etc) all depends on what comes after it. If there is tailored, beneficial support/treatment given then it would most likely be a relief and change someone’s life. It also depends on how those around them react/respond (that have the special responsibility of knowing someone’s diagnosis). It is a great shame that other people create stigma for others to suffer through; education and compassion is definitely still very much needed.

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