Getting diagnosed with a mental health disorder can be disconcerting, especially as there is a lot of misinformation and stereotypes around mental health disorders, often promoted and perpetuated by the media and pop culture. Not understanding your diagnosis can be scary and can make it harder to take medication if you need it to help stabilize you. Remember, your mental health practitioner is there to help you understand your diagnosis and guide your next steps. We have compiled a list of tips to help you navigate this process.
Your mental health provider diagnoses you based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). The current edition of the DSM is DSM-5. The American Psychiatric Organization describes the DSM as the following, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) is the product of more than 10 years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health. Their dedication and hard work have yielded an authoritative volume that defines and classifies mental disorders in order to improve diagnoses, treatment, and research.” Mental health practitioners are trained in using DSM-5 to diagnose you. Please visit psychiatry.org for more information.
There is a lot of controversy around the DSM-5, how it is flawed in its classifications, how influenced it may have been by big industries and whether the manual takes into account cultural factors. The other argument is that diagnosing can be subjective and sometimes, different psychiatrists might give one person slightly different diagnoses. As we continue to research more into our brain and how it operates, it may be possible that our criteria and classification changes.
It’s important to note though that having the DSM-5 and a universal general manual allows mental health practitioners to use research-based techniques together to treat your mental health issue.
A dual diagnosis is when a person is diagnosed with both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (abuse or dependence). Dual diagnosis means that the individual needs to be treated for both. Because of how complex the relationship between a mental health disorder and substance use disorder is, it is difficult to state clearly and definitively for each person which came “first.” Regardless, proper mental health treatment means addressing both diagnoses.
Disclosing to loved ones (family, friends, romantic partners) or even potential romantic partners can be daunting. It may help to explore this with your mental health therapist to understand your feelings around disclosing this information. It might also help to identify which people you feel most comfortable with disclosing to first as you yourself understand your diagnosis. You can also come up with a few key things you want to share with them before you disclose to them. Be ready for some individuals who do not understand and who may make ignorant or misinformed statements. When disclosing to a potential romantic partner, it can get complicated as to when you want to disclose this information. Some individuals feel they need to disclose it immediately when they start dating, some feel comfortable sharing it when they feel closer to their partner. Ultimately, it is your decision but we definitely recommend having a support system so you can discuss how the experience was for you and what their reaction was, especially if it was not what you expected.
Here are a few additional resources to help you better understand the DSM 5 manual and diagnoses: