Receiving a diagnosis for a mental illness is more like the beginning of an ongoing journey than a destination. This process isn’t as straightforward as receiving a diagnosis for a physical illness, like strep throat or cancer, where there’s a throat swab or blood work looking for a specific marker.
Instead, psychiatrists rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), physical exams, and monitoring of symptoms over time.
Plus, it’s often the case that there are multiple diagnoses. In particular, depressive disorders tend to happen along with anxiety and substance use disorders.
Recent research has found that there are genetic links between the following disorders: autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia. Additionally, symptoms can overlap with various disorders, so finding the right diagnosis can be a challenge.
Finding the Right Diagnosis
Even though diagnosing a mental health disorder can be challenging, it’s still worth finding the right diagnosis for your loved one. It can be initially emotionally hard to deal with a diagnosis. You and your loved one may be experiencing all kinds of emotions: grief, shock, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and/or disbelief. And then, on top of that, ensuring that it is the correct diagnosis may take some time.
And it’s all a part of the journey.
Getting the right diagnosis is important for several reasons. The right diagnosis can be a useful guide for treatment, because if you have the wrong diagnosis, it can send your loved one down the wrong path with tough consequences.
For example, if your loved one has depression but is being treated for bipolar disorder, that misdiagnosis can cause them to be on the wrong medication or receive the wrong treatment — either can cause unintentional physical or emotional harm.
Having the right diagnosis is also important for billing insurance for services because they require it. It’s also important for getting Social Security disability insurance (SSDI).
Questions to Consider
Because psychiatric diagnoses are intricate and important for getting the right treatment and support, it’s important that you and your loved one understand how diagnoses were made, what symptoms to expect, and how they’ve been assessed.
Here are some questions to consider as you reflect on your loved one’s diagnosis journey:
- When was the initial diagnosis made?
- Have additional diagnoses been given over time?
- Has there been any re-evaluation since the initial diagnosis? By whom? When? How?
- What are the expected symptoms for each diagnosis?
- Are there overlapping symptoms for each diagnosis?
- Have the diagnoses changed over time? If so, what were the reasons given?
- Are there any symptoms that haven’t been diagnosed or addressed?
If your loved one has not had their diagnoses re-evaluated in a while, or you or your loved one does not feel the diagnoses fit, or treatment seems to have stalled, or there are new or unaddressed symptoms — it’s probably time to for your loved one to be re-evaluated.
As their caregiver, you are one of your loved one’s most powerful advocates. You should feel empowered to talk to your loved one’s healthcare providers to have them take a more thorough look.
If they aren’t responsive or you don’t feel your concerns are being heard or properly addressed, you should also feel empowered to find a second opinion and/or find new healthcare providers that will listen and respond.
A diagnosis is part of the beginning of a journey of healing and recovery for your loved one. So it’s important to revisit it, to make sure it still fits, that treatment still works, that your loved one is getting the care that they need.
Having a correct diagnosis is an important part of an ongoing conversation that you and your loved one should have to ensure they’re getting the best care and treatment available to them. So make sure you’re keeping that conversation going and current and with the right people.