How to Get Diagnosed: Do You Have a Mental Health Disorder?

Everyone has days in which emotional or cognitive experiences just don’t seem to go right. However, when these experiences seem to be a regular occurrence, it is possible that the individual may be experiencing a mental health disorder. The problem is that it’s not always easy to know when this is actually the case.

There are many different kinds of mental health disorders. While specific symptoms can be varied, it is often possible to recognize general symptoms, signs, and behaviors that may indicate the individual needs to get a diagnosis and treatment.

Types of Mental Health Disorders

There are more than 200 specific, classified mental illnesses. However, as summarized by WebMD, mental health disorders can be divided into several general categories, which include but are not limited to:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Dementia
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Somatic disorders
  • Substance abuse, addiction, and impulse control disorders

With so many different kinds of disorders, it can be difficult for an individual to know what to look for to determine whether a particular mental health disorder is present. As mentioned, there are some generalized behaviors and symptoms that can help to determine whether it is time to investigate further and get a diagnosis from a professional.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders

Mental Health America shares some general signs and symptoms that can help people recognize if someone is experiencing a mental health disorder. Mental symptoms include:

  • Confusion, memory loss, or other cognitive dysfunction
  • Changes in mood, such as depression or mania
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Increased or excessive anxiety
  • Atypical anger, aggression, or outbursts
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Delusions

Along with these symptoms, there are certain behavior changes that may indicate a mental health disorder is present, such as:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Secrecy or hiding other behaviors
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to keep up or perform typically in work, school, or other personal responsibilities
  • Persistent disobedience in children
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Extreme risk-taking behaviors

When these signs and behaviors are occurring – and particularly if more than one is occurring at once – it is a good idea to see a professional for a mental health diagnosis.

How to Get a Diagnosis

There are multiple steps that can be followed to get an accurate diagnosis for a mental health disorder, summarized by Mayo Clinic. The first step is to see a doctor regarding the symptoms. This can rule out any physical conditions that may be contributing to the condition. Sometimes, chronic illnesses like diabetes or acute onset of conditions like cancer can cause changes in mood or ability to cope. As a second step, lab tests may also indicate that there’s a physical component to the mental symptoms and behaviors.

It’s important to bear in mind that physical ailments can also result in mental health disorders, so just because there’s a physical reason for the issue does not mean a mental health disorder is not present. For this reason, seeing a mental health professional as a follow-up step, such as making a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist, can help. The type of mental health professional selected may depend on the type of mental health disorder suspected. For example, if substance abuse is the potential disorder, it can help to select a professional addiction treatment or rehab center to determine the diagnosis.

By working with a mental health professional, the individual can get a more detailed diagnosis of the specific mental condition, through the specific tools mental health professionals use to make a diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is made, treatment can be determined.

The Text for Diagnoses

The main tool involved in diagnosing mental health disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual that codifies the symptoms and signs of various mental health disorders and supports professionals in determining whether those signs are present to a degree that means a mental health disorder can be diagnosed.

The DSM-5 information regarding the mental health disorder of addiction includes 11 different behavioral symptoms, such as:

  • Inability to control amount or frequency of substance use
  • Inability to stop using the substance
  • Struggles to manage personal relationships, responsibilities, or personal interests
  • Health issues that result from substance use
  • Withdrawal symptoms if the substance is stopped

Of the 11 symptoms, if 2-3 are present in an individual, a mild substance use disorder is diagnosed. In contrast, if a person has 4-5 symptoms, the diagnosis is a moderate disorder, and if a person is experiencing six or more of the symptoms, the professional will diagnose a severe disorder.

Each mental health disorder has its own set of diagnostic symptoms and indicates what they mean regarding the individual’s mental health condition, enabling an accurate diagnosis that can lead the person to get help for the condition.

Working with a Mental Health Professional or Treatment Program

Once the diagnosis is made, the professional can then advise the individual on treatment for the condition. Depending on the type of condition and severity, there are several general treatment types that may be prescribed, either alone or in combination, as described by the American Association of Community Psychiatrists:

  • One-on-one work with a counselor or psychiatrist
  • Outpatient treatment through a treatment program
  • Inpatient treatment through a rehab or treatment center
  • Hospitalization or other emergency measures

The care plan will be determined by the treatment professional based on the severity of the disorder, how well the individual is able to function, the expected potential for recovery or relapse risk, the person’s living environment and its ability to support recovery, and the individual’s safety risk, among other factors.

Mental Health Disorder Treatment

For most mental health disorders, treatment involves some or all of the below therapies, as described by Mayo Clinic:

  • Cognitive or behavioral therapies to recognize and change behavior patterns
  • Family therapy to help with treatment support and identify influences on the condition
  • Peer therapy or support groups for experiential advice and motivational tools
  • Exercise and nutrition to improve the brain’s ability to function normally
  • Alternative therapies that can help the individual manage issues that contribute to the condition

Sometimes, medications can help to control physical symptoms, such as tics or sleep problems. However, these should be carefully undertaken and monitored because some of the drugs used in mental health treatment can contribute to a substance use disorder.

While mental health disorders can be managed, they often cannot be cured. Instead, they must be continually monitored and treated, as with chronic physical conditions like asthma or diabetes. Through careful, research-based treatments, many individuals can enter recovery and get the care they need to learn to live a productive life while managing their mental health conditions.