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Understanding Your Mental Health Diagnosis

Updated: Jun 4, 2022

You can have many different reactions to being given a mental health diagnosis. It can be the explanation you've been looking for, and you may finally feel able to breathe a sigh of relief. It can also be confusing, overwhelming, or scary. You may worry that it means something is wrong with you. You might worry that others will treat you differently because you have it.

Whatever your reaction to receiving a mental health diagnosis, there are some steps you can take to ease your adjustment to living with it.

1. Remember that getting a label doesn't create the problem. For example, being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder doesn't make you depressed. Diagnoses are meant to recognize challenges you are already experiencing. Once the difficulty is recognized, you and your therapist can understand the problem better. They also allow your therapist to provide treatment created to help with your specific symptoms, whether that's therapy, medication, or other services.

2. Talk to your therapist about your diagnosis. Ask them questions like:

  1. What does that label mean?

  2. Why do you think it matches me?

  3. How do you see it impacting my life?

  4. Does it usually last for a long time, even with treatment?

  5. What is your plan to help me with it?

  6. What can I do to manage it?

Ask these and any other questions you need to understand your diagnosis. Your therapist should help you to understand it and what it may mean for you.

3. Whatever your first reaction is to your diagnosis, it's okay to have it. Take time to think about how you feel about it. Try journaling or talking to a trusted loved one about it. If you have a strong negative reaction, think about why you're having that reaction. Continue to talk to your therapist about your reaction, including your negative feelings. Remind yourself that a diagnosis is something you are experiencing, not something that you are.

4. Think about any stigma or bias you may have about your mental health diagnosis. Do you have any negative beliefs about that label? Do others in your life have negative beliefs about your diagnosis or mental healthcare in general? Is there anything else negatively affecting how you think about it? Unfortunately, people with stigma against mental health disorders may treat you differently after finding out that you have a diagnosis. You may have to consider who you tell about your diagnosis to reduce this risk.

5. Tell people you trust about your diagnosis. It can be scary to talk to people, but knowing about your diagnosis can help them to support you. You may have to tell your employer or school about it if it's affecting your work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other nondiscrimination laws, most employers and schools must provide "reasonable accommodations" to qualified individuals with disabilities. Check with your school or Human Resources department if you think you may qualify for accommodations.

6. Get connected to people with the same diagnosis. Talk to others with the same symptoms, join a support group or group therapy, join a Facebook group focused on your symptoms, or read blogs or memoirs written by people with your diagnosis. Getting connected can help you understand your it better, feel understood, and feel supported.

7. Although interacting with people who share your diagnosis can be helpful, your experience is likely different from their experiences. The way each person experiences their diagnosis and how it affects their life is unique to them. A diagnosis should be descriptive rather than prescriptive - that is, it should describe your experiences rather than tell you what experiences to have. Remember that your experience is unique to you and give yourself space to reflect on your experiences.

8. Take your time to adjust to it. It can be hard to adjust to a label, especially for a long-term diagnosis like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Take the time you need to understand it, how you feel about it, and what it means for you.

Following these steps can help you to better understand a mental health diagnosis you've been given. Understanding and accepting your diagnosis is the first step towards connecting with resources to support you.

Bonus: It may be helpful to share these steps with a loved one as well. These steps can also help them to understand your label, better understand what you're going through, think about their reactions to your diagnosis, and learn how to support you.

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