Mental Health Diagnosis – Helpful or not?
What is a Mental Health Diagnosis?
Mental Health Diagnosis’s are made by a GP or professional within the mental health field. Completed by taking into account the symptoms someone is experiencing, normally through the use of questionnaires. The diagnosis received depends on the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of the person, giving focus to the severity and frequency of the experiences.
When Mental Health Diagnosis can be helpful
A change in thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be particularly distressing. To not know what is happening, or why, and feel like there is little control over it can be overwhelming. When I first starting having panic attacks I thought I was going mad. Having a diagnosis can be a positive thing for people. Before diagnosis it can feel like there is no control over what has been happening. Diagnosis offers the chance to begin the path of recovery or at least an improved ability to manage the experiences. Having these intrusive thoughts, unpleasant feelings and strange behaviours made sense of can give opportunities for greater self understanding. Through self-directed research, support and connecting with other people with similar experiences can inspire and encourage recovery.
For those around you
It shouldn’t need to, but it can make it easier for other people to realise your experiences aren’t ‘all in your head.’ Having a diagnosis can make it easier to navigate communicating to employers, this might include changing work times or taking some time off to look after yourself. Friends and family may become more understanding and empathic. Realising that how you are feeling and behaving is part of something much bigger than you are currently able to explain, or control.
When a diagnosis may not be helpful
“Calling yourself by a diagnostic label can increase the likelihood that you will continue to act in that manner. Saying that you are depressed increases the likelihood that you will stay home instead of socialising, or give you permission to nibble, putting on pounds instead of pushing yourself to go out for your usual exercise regime.”
It can define who you are
Having a mental illness, with a diagnosis is not a full stop. It doesn’t mean you will always have it. The feelings, thoughts and behaviours can lessen and become more manageable over time with the right support. Sometimes people define themselves as “an anxious person” or “someone with depression.” It’s understandable if those feelings are persistent and interfering with day to day living. But I question how helpful it is to continue to label ourselves in such a limiting way. There was a point in my life for many years, where anxiety came first. I was anxious Laura. Now I think of myself as Laura, who sometimes experiences anxiety. Just like I experience sadness, happiness, joy, peace, loneliness etc.
“a person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity; a flowing river of change, not a block of solid material; a continually changing constellation of potentialities, not a fixed quantity of traits.”
It can limit your belief in recovery
It would be easy and understandable to resign to the fact you may always feel like this, like life won’t ever go back to how it was before or that you’ll ever feel good again. Maybe your GP has put you on medication and the waiting list for counselling or CBT is too long. Perhaps you’ve had therapy and it didn’t help; you didn’t have a good relationship with your therapist, 6 sessions wasn’t enough, or it just didn’t work. You might not think anything significant happened to you so the illness feels concrete, not changeable without a root cause. Emphasis is put on the change in chemicals within the brain, but it is not yet known if this change causes depression and anxiety or whether the depression and anxiety changes the brain.
It can be scary to step into the unknown
Everything about mental illness initially is unknown. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a trauma for mental illness to strike. Sometimes it can be an accumulation of seemingly small things happening to, or around you. Whilst medication may be right for people short term, to help stabilise how they’re able to live life I don’t believe for the majority of people that long term medication with no other support is helpful. Recovery is not always easy and it’s not a simple path. It’s a winding road of ups and downs, full of uncertainty and takes great courage. It means facing yourself head on, being open to learning things about yourself and your life and changing to meet your new needs.
I work with you
Although I will hold and respect any diagnosis you may have, I work with you and all that you are. I’m interested in your feelings, thoughts and what you are struggling with. I listen to you and your unique experience, working alongside you offering you the opportunity to open the doors to self discovery and understanding.