It’s hardly a secret that in the mental health field, everyone gets their take. There is no definitive medical test for any mental illness, and most mental health professionals don’t have the time or resources to dig as deep as one hopes.
Mental Health Problems Go In and Out of Vogue
In the 1970-80s eating disorders were en vogue, diagnosed at never before seen rates (partly due to increased awareness among medical professionals). The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (and/or self-injury, which isn’t actually a diagnosis but let’s not be picky, shall we?).
Bias is part of the mental health system, whether we like it or not. Everyone, mental health professionals included, is prone to it: finding what they’re looking for. Infallibility doesn’t come with a medical license, a piece of paper on the wall.
Mental Health Problems Diagnosed Too Quickly
Let’s imagine that you have a panic attack and end up in an emergency clinic because it feels like you’re having a heart attack. No heart attack, so the ER refers you to a psychiatrist who (too quickly?) diagnoses you with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable being given a label like GAD — and the stigma that comes with it — if there were a better basis for diagnosing any mental health problem? Wouldn’t accepting the label be easier if seeking a psychiatrist for a second opinion wasn’t quite so thoroughly frowned upon, or just plain hard to get? Or if asking questions and acting as a self-advocate wasn’t more likely to result in being treated as a problem rather than a patient?
Mental Health Problems Are Diagnosed With the Best Guess
Most psychotherapists and psychologists are not doctors, and most general practitioners aren’t qualified to diagnose a mental illness. They rely on psychiatrists just as much as we do.
Unfortunately, there’s always the risk my experience won’t be expressed very well. Some psychiatrists don’t take what’s happening in my head seriously because my own reflection doesn’t seem to hold much weight. And some mental illnesses make finding the right words next to impossible, as with the cognitive impairments of depression.
Diagnosis, or misdiagnosis, boils down to whatever the professional happens to see on the day of my appointment. The psychiatrist relies on his or her best guess based on observable behavior.
Which is okay to some extent, but isn’t it about time they admit it?
Mental Health Problems Take Away Your Voice
All too many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses they don’t have: which doesn’t accurately reflect the day-to-day experience of their mental health, and which they do not feel sufficiently empowered or educated to speak about.
Maybe it’s because they showed up when the psychiatrist in question was having a bad day, or they have a history of addiction and overdosed in the wrong ER, or one medication didn’t work when another did. All of which have next to nothing to do with the supposed bible of psychiatric diagnosis: the DSM-V.
I don’t have a grudge against psychiatrists because it’s my experience they at least believe they are helping. But I’d still feel better about the ideas they present as fact, were they able to identify what’s wrong with any of us to any degree of certainty, beyond a vague diagnostic category.
How many diagnoses did you go through before they found “the right fit?”