If you’ve noticed that your mental health is suffering and affecting your daily life, perhaps it’s time to find out how to get a mental health diagnosis. Unlike a physical illness, it can be challenging to distinguish mental health issues from only having ‘bad days.’ Some of the common signs and symptoms of mental illness are: 

  • Excessive sadness or feeling down
  • Excessive worrying, fear, or guilt
  • Sudden and extreme mood swings
  • Social withdrawal (from friends and family)
  • Extremely low energy, fatigue, and problems sleeping
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Drastic changes in eating habits
  • Detachments from reality, hallucinations, or paranoia
  • Suicidal thinking, and more

Seeking mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment is a good option regardless of what combination of these (or other) symptoms you’re experiencing. If they are affecting your lifestyle so that you cannot function normally, it’s time to turn to a health care professional.

Who can diagnose mental illness?

  • Psychiatrists – For the most severe and complex mental illnesses, it is best to talk to a psychiatrist. These are medical doctors that specialize in psychiatry. They can prescribe medication, manage treatment, and plan a wide range of therapies. Of course, there is no harm in talking to a psychiatrist, even if you don’t have a severe mental disorder. 
  • Psychologists – As opposed to psychiatrists, psychologists are not medical doctors – they have a degree in psychology. They are trained in diagnosing patients, but they cannot prescribe medication. Their primary treatment avenue is psychotherapy (conversation therapy). Most people who suffer from mild to moderate forms of anxiety and depression see a psychologist to help them cope with the stresses of daily life. 
  • General Practitioners (GPs) – In theory, a GP is qualified to diagnose a mental illness. However, they would lack much of the specialist knowledge that psychiatrists and even psychologists have. This is why the GP is only the first step in getting a mental health diagnosis. They are mostly meant to rule out any physical illnesses that could cause the symptoms and write you a referral to the right mental health professionals. 

Main Types of Mental Illness

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines symptoms for each mental illness. These are the most common mental health disorders: 

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders: autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disorders, etc.
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and psychotic disorders
  • Depressive disorders: major depressive disorder, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, etc.
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety, panic disorder, etc.
  • Trauma- and stressor-related disorders: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, etc.
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Sexual dysfunctions
  • Dissociative disorders: dissociative identity disorder, dissociative amnesia, etc.
  • Eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, etc.
  • Addictive and substance abuse disorders
  • Personality disorders: borderline personality disorder, antisocial, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.

This list represents just some of the examples of mental health conditions a person can get diagnosed with. To get correctly diagnosed, there are several steps you will usually need to take.

Steps to Getting a Mental Health Diagnosis

1. It would be best first to contact your primary care provider and schedule an appointment. This is usually a GP or a family medicine doctor that can refer you to a mental health professional once you describe your symptoms. 

2. Your primary care provider will likely perform a physical exam and order some lab tests to rule out physical causes, such as hormonal imbalances. 

3. Before you see a mental health professional for the first time, it might be useful to prepare. Write down a list of symptoms you or the people around you have noticed and how long they’ve been there for. Include crucial personal information, such as past traumatic events or any current stressors in your life. Don’t leave out your physical conditions or the medications, vitamins, herbal products, or supplements you’re taking.

Lastly, think of some questions to ask your therapist. These questions can be about the type of mental illness you have, how it is treated, how long the treatment will take, what you can do to help, what websites or other types of material the therapist recommends, and so on. 

4. The medical professional may ask you to answer questions as well. These could be questions about when you first noticed the symptoms, how they affect your way of life, if any things make you feel worse, if you have any blood relatives with a mental illness, if anyone in your surroundings has commented on your change in behavior, etc. 

For an accurate diagnosis, you should strive to answer as truthfully as possible. Therapists aren’t there to judge you or make you feel ashamed of your symptoms. They are trained to help manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Their job is to understand what’s wrong and what the best treatment plan would be. 

What next?

Even though some mental health problems are relatively straightforward, it may take a few appointments for your therapist to diagnose you. Once your mental illness is identified, the next step would be to treat it. 

Treatment depends on the type of condition you have, its severity, and what you’re most comfortable with. No one will ever force you into a treatment program you won’t feel okay with. If your illness is mild, then one mental health care provider will be enough. However, if it is a complicated case, perhaps you’ll need a team of people to support you. This team may include your primary care doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, family friends, and others. 

You may be prescribed medication such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications. Other treatments, like brain-stimulation, residential treatment programs, and substance abuse treatments, may come into play. 

It is vital that you stay true to the therapy your doctor recommends and that you regularly attend your therapy sessions. Depending on the mental issues you’re facing, it may be a long and challenging road to recovery. Understanding your diagnosis and working together with your team of healthcare providers will ensure the best possible outcome. 

If you’d like to know more about improving your mental health, contact us at Road to Recovery with any questions or concerns you may have.