What’s the Process of Diagnosing Mental Illness?

When we don’t feel well physically, we go to the doctor. They ask about our symptoms and check our vital signs. These specific techniques help diagnose our health issues, then use the diagnosis to develop a treatment plan. The same happens when people visit a health care provider for psychological issues.

When you visit a Southern California mental health clinic, the provider will ask about your symptoms, the length of time you’ve been struggling, and how your life is affected. The process tends to take longer than a typical health care visit, because mental illnesses are often quite complex.

How Mental Illness is Diagnosed

mental-health-diagnosis-pexels-photo-5699456Your health care provider will ask written or verbal questions. You might be asked to complete a questionnaire, or you’ll chat with a medical assistant who will record your responses in your chart. Most questions will address your thoughts, behaviors, and mood.

After listening and learning about your situation, the health care provider will build a diagnosis. If your experiences and reactions change, you could develop another diagnosis. For example, people with anxiety could also suffer from depression.

If you are managing your mental health issues, you might not be suffering from your diagnosis at the present time. Having the diagnosis can help you stay aware of the symptoms and the triggers, so you can stay in control. Your diagnosis also helps you understand why some days might be more challenging than others.

Who Can Diagnose a Mental Illness

Only a few types of health care providers are qualified to diagnose a mental health disorder. If you have depression or anxiety, your primary care provider could be the first to diagnose it. Primary care providers usually don’t diagnose more complex mental health issues.

If you have a problem that isn’t depression or anxiety, it’s best to visit a psychiatrist or a psychologist who works in a clinic supported by psychiatrists. They will want to work with you for several sessions to make a precise diagnosis.

Why Getting a Diagnosis Is Helpful

You might be worried about getting a mental health diagnosis. Rather than worry, consider that knowledge is power. Once you receive a diagnosis, you can begin to heal. Many people with mental health issues find their diagnosis brings them relief, because it helps their doctor figure out the best course of treatment. Without a diagnosis, you and your provider are guessing about your treatment.

In some situations, the diagnosis might not be enough. You might feel like you’re being labeled, and the recommended treatments won’t help you live your life comfortably. You might also feel like your personal experiences and background make you more than a diagnosis. Your provider should include your unique experiences as well as your diagnosis.

If you are feeling let down by the diagnosis, consider the idea that your diagnosis does not define you. Instead, think about it as a tool to help you better understand what is preventing you from fully enjoying your life. Treating it can make your relationships, work experience, and daily routine better.


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Editor’s note: This piece discusses suicide. If you have experienced suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide and want to seek help, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Last Updated on November 6, 2023 by Marie Benz