Diagnosis: Help or Hindrance?

November 22, 2011

I’m writing this by popular request of twitter.

Often people question whether a mental health diagnosis is a good thing. Personally I think it is a good thing aslong as it isn’t misdiagnosis and has been well thought out. To treat an illness you must first know what it is. Unlike many with a BPD diagnosis I was relieved when I was told what was wrong because I already had my suspicions. It meant I had a name to my “crazy” behaviour and could work on conquering. If you use your diagnosis constructively, it can work for you not against you. The only scary diagnosis should be one you haven’t heard of before. Because knowledge is power. Knowing what an illness is and how to fight it is the key to recovery.

On the other side being diagnosed with a mental health problem can mean that stigma is suddenly chasing you like a wild dog but then the only difference between you before diagnosis and after is that someone has told you what is wrong. Whether you are told what you have, not having a diagnosis doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

A diagnosis of a mental illness can sometimes feel daunting and scary and can often worsen symptoms because, hell, nobody wants to be ill. My dad will often use his diagnosis as a crutch by saying “But I can’t do that, I’m Bipolar aren’t I?” he’s someone who blindly follows the doctors and hopes the pills will make him better. He doesn’t actively take part in improving his mental health or changing his situation. So for someone like my dad, it probably wouldn’t matter what diagnosis he had, he would take the pills and be on his way.

It depends how you approach it. But it shouldn’t leave you feeling hopeless. It should leave you feel that there is hope. No, there isn’t always a way to “cure” it but there are ways of coping with it. When you get a mental illness diagnosis, don’t think it’s the end. It’s the beginning of a rocky path to a stable future.

Once people become less ignorant about mental illness, I know that a diagnosis will seem less scary. There will be less of a worry that other people will judge you and be scared of you. When there is more acceptance of mental health problems in society, more people will feel comfortable with getting that all important diagnosis.

I think one of the real problems is self diagnosis, once you’ve been diagnosed with one thing you can start thinking but I’m also this and this Oh! and this one. But generally recovering from your main diagnosis or controlling the symptoms of it will probably control the other attributes you’d find in other illness too. The main diagnosis is the important one and will usually take the others with it. Multiple diagnosis isn’t uncommon but then mental illnesses don’t like to be alone. I’d say I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder yet I just say I have BPD because the social anxiety and PTSD are part of my BPD. Don’t cover yourself in diagnosis. You may have many diagnoses but there will always be one that sticks out and that has to be focused on first.

So that’s my two cents. I think it’s a help, but what do you think?



  1. To me, diagnoses are an entirely individual concept: if they’re useful to you, great; if not great.

    In my own circumstances, I was really glad to get mine. For one, I had a dynamic by which I could engage with others in the same boat. Secondary, rather than give the misnomer of “depression” out to all and sundry, I was then able to point to the actual psychiatric issues applicable to me. Thirdly, and most importantly, a discreet set of symptoms allowed me to understand and conceptualise my mentalness.

    What grates on me is not people’s denial of either diagnoses or medication, but their demonisation of those of us that don’t dogmatically hate same. To me, my extreme experiences (voices, visions, Catalonia and thought disorder) cannot be “pathologised humanity”, but whatever. If you suffer, you do. If that’s serious, generally non-circumstantial or frequent then, if you feel it appropriate for you, the diagnoses can be helpful.

    Many warm hugs

    Pan ❤ xxx

    • I should have said that, flawed as psychiatric (and non-psychiatric, for that matter) can be, they do at least provide clinicians with guidance. That said, just because Therapy A statistically alleviates the symptoms of Disorder Z, does not mean it will work for each individual. A fair starting point it may be, but all therapy – psychopharmacology and talking therapies alike – ought to be highly individualised.

      But if you know what you’re starting with, at least you have some, however tenuous, material with which to begin treatment.


    • There are multifarious errors in the above; sorry, lovely. I hope you understood what I meant. Blame my iPhone, my being me and a negligible amount of booze for any nonsense observed 😉 xxx

  2. I found my diagnosis to be a relief. Rather than existing in this changing tide of emotions, I understood that it was due to something in my brain and not normal. Plus, it sent me down the path of getting better. My diagnosis has morphed, first depression, then BP2, then BP1, now BP1 with psychosis, but the progressive narrowing of what I have allows me to know what to expect and how to ride the wave while also fighting back. It also allows me to predict and inform others who need to know what accommodations are to be expected when working with me. So in my case, diagnosis was the utmost important thing to happen to my mental illness.

  3. For me, diagnosis is important. My care team always say it doesn’t matter, but it affects how people within the system approach you and it also affects how you approach yourself. Without a diagnosis I start doubting I am ill at all and that leads to all sorts of trouble. I wish I was more articulate today, as this is a subject I have a lot of thoughts about. Maybe I’ll return later. Take care x

  4. I have mixed emotions when it comes to diagnostics in general, for a number of reasons.

    I personally see a “diagnosis” as nothing more than a name for a cluster of symptoms/behaviors/etc. When you have a mental illness, being officially diagnosed is merely nothing more than having your cluster of symptoms named, and professional recognized using that name. It’s not as though having a diagnosis suddenly changes your actions, the way your symptoms present or anything of the sort. The only change is that they now have a name.

    Now- don’t get me wrong. I do understand the overwhelming yet odd sense of personal relief that comes along with having “a name” for what seems to be “wrong” with you, but at the same time you must keep in mind the increasing problem with self-fulfilling prophecies within clinical psychology. The stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness only furthers that self-fulfilling prophecy as well, because as individuals are ostracized, judged, stereotyped, etc they fall further into the pre-concieved notions they have about their disorder, as well as the expectations they feel others have of them (which is what leads to an exaggeration of symptoms/false presentation of symptoms within some individuals).

    I guess your stance on the topic depends on what your goals are, and how “sure” you are of a diagnosis. Anyways, that’s my opinion on it. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one thinking about such things! 🙂

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