Too many people with mental health issues feel alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five Americans live with some form of mental illness. Conditions and severity can range, but the first step towards improving an individual’s quality of life is getting an accurate diagnosis. Receiving a diagnosis may provide relief for some, while others may not find it very impactful; others may experience a variety of emotions. So how does a person get a mental health diagnosis?
Determining a Mental Health Diagnosis
It may be difficult for someone to admit that they have concerns about their mental health. The first step toward diagnosis is to recognize that something is going on. Next, the person should reach out to a mental health expert like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker to discuss their concerns and symptoms. Doing these two things may be challenging, but many mental health issues are easier to treat the sooner they are identified.
Unfortunately, no one test can determine what mental health concern a person may have. Some medical tests will be performed to rule out any other underlying conditions affecting the individual. This means that confirming a diagnosis depends on sharing symptoms with a mental health professional so that they can use their experience to shape the most accurate answer.
Why a Mental Health Diagnosis is Important
A professional mental health diagnosis is a powerful tool that medical professionals can use to advise someone on their best treatment options and any future health risks they may face. Treating mental health is as vital as treating physical health. Just as with physical conditions, the sooner they are addressed, the better.
Additionally, labeling a mental health condition helps with insurance companies. A doctor’s diagnosis allows the person to receive the care necessary to treat their condition. It provides the person with the potential to qualify for various support, from Social Security disability to job protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A diagnosis will not relieve an individual’s symptoms, but it can offer them a path forward — one with the proper care and protection they deserve.
Mental Health Treatment
What treatment someone receives will depend on their diagnosis, the severity of their condition, and what works best for them. Often, a combination of therapy and medication will be used. There may be some trial and error as the best path forward is customized for the individual.
A person’s mental health treatment team can include:
- Family or primary care doctor
- Nurse practitioner
- Physician assistant
- Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses
- Psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor
- Social worker
- Family members
For someone with a milder mental health diagnosis, their primary care doctor may be able to handle their needs alone. Those with a severe mental illness may need more care that includes the additional professionals listed above.
Medications used to treat mental health conditions include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. Other treatment approaches that may be used include:
- Psychotherapy or talk therapy
- Brain stimulation, such as electroconvulsive therapy, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and vagus nerve stimulation
- Hospital or residential care programs
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
A dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder, is when a person has a mental health diagnosis and a substance abuse issue. No definitive answer exists for why the two can happen together, but researchers have three theories:
- Substance abuse and mental disorders share common risk factors like genetics, stress, and trauma
- Mental health issues can contribute to substance abuse when people attempt to self-medicate to handle their mental health symptoms
- Abusing substances change the brain’s structure, increasing someone’s chances of developing a mental health condition
Treatment for a dual diagnosis requires the person to stop abusing any substances and to seek help for their mental health diagnosis. It is recommended that the person receive care for both conditions simultaneously. This is as an integrated intervention.
A diagnosis of a mental health disorder is simply a starting point for the person to begin creating a better life for themselves.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.