Does a mental health diagnosis limit you?

April 29th 2022

What are the pros and cons of getting a diagnosis?

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Many people whom I work with ask if they should go and get a diagnosis for their mental health issues.  It is a question asked even more from parents about their children.

My response is never yes or no, but to help them make an informed decision that is the right one for them.

One thing however is key – a mental health diagnosis should never be a negative thing.

The benefits of getting a diagnosis

Having a diagnosis can support a pathway to treatment.  This may be through pharmaceutical routes, or support via mental health services and treatment such as CBT.

A diagnosis can also help access funds.  For example a client recently achieved a diagnosis for her daughter that has led to additional funding to support her through to the age of 25.

A diagnosis can help your rational mind understand why you are feeling the way you are.  This in itself can reduce internal conflict and create a level of understanding that can ease symptoms.

A diagnosis can also help you link up with other people with the same diagnosis giving you a new area of support or understanding.

When a diagnosis may be counter productive.

Diagnoses can often be worn as a label.  I have seen many children and teenagers change from doing their best to overcome challenges (and doing so successfully) to giving up because ‘I have XYZ’ – wearing the diagnosis as a label.  Having that label can lead to them using it as a reason to not push the boundaries which can lead to a downwards spiral in behaviour.

Similar to the above, a diagnosis can become an identity – defining who you are.  I worked with a client once who had a physical issue that inhibited mobility.  They told me they had ‘XYZ’ and because of that, “I am depressed.”  Depression had become their identity – the ‘I am.’  XYZ did in deed inhibit their mobility but they had also given up on everything else they could do and that was the reason for their depression.  Our work together was to re-frame the diagnosis to something that was a part of them rather than who they were.  We focused on all the things they could do and how they could become more mobile.  Through this work, they came off the anti-depressants and stopped even relating to XYZ; it was just ‘something I live with.’

Being diagnosed can lead you to spending more time with people who have the same diagnosis – which is not always a good thing.  Teenagers with eating disorders will commonly be sent on workshops with other teenagers with the same diagnosis.  In many situations, these teenagers have then confessed to me that what they learned was new ways to cut calories, new ways to self harm, new ways to deceive their parents.  I am a great believer that the way to help people is not to spend time with people who are also struggling, but to spend time with people who have successfully overcome the diagnosis – this however is not readily available.

What is the right route for you?

My advice would be for you to make a decision based upon your end goal. If your goal is to get access to funding or additional support, then the diagnosis may be the best, perhaps only, route there.

If a diagnosis will make no difference to the treatment paths open to you, or if funding is not available, I invite you to question what benefits a diagnosis will give you.

Most importantly, a medical disorder doesn't have to be a reason to not live a full, happy life

A session I have taken into schools is based around helping them to avoid using a diagnosis as an excuse – and that works for also educating those around them about the abilities of people with diagnoses too.

Here are some famous people who have mental health challenges – but have never allowed them to hold them back:

Dyslexia

Orlando Bloom, Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Jim Carrey, Daniel Radcliffe are amongst a very long list of highly talented creative people who despite needing to read scripts, have achieved as much, if not more than people without dyslexia.  One of them admits he cannot tie a shoelace.  Can you guess which one?

Autism

Anthony Hopkins, Tim Burton, Satoshi Tajini (creator of Pokemon) and Eton Musk have all had diagnoses based on the Autism spectrum.

ADHD

Michael Phelps (28 Olympic medals), Justin Timberlake, Paris Hilton, Adam Levine (Maroon 5 front man) Simone Biles (World class gymnast) have all stated they have ADHD; all are extremely successful in their own fields.

Mental health conditions continue to be treated differently to physical health conditions.  It is changing but there is a way to go.   And until that gap is closed, I hope the information above has helped you to make a better decision for yourself as to whether a diagnosis will help or hinder you to live the full and happy life that is there for you.

Has the above changed your perception of mental health diagnoses? Please let me know by commenting below.

Caroline Cavanagh is an anxiety specialist  and hypnotherapist in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  She is an author and public speaker and would love to talk to you if you would like to know more about her work

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