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7 "Secrets" About Mental Illness - From A Former Therapist

Updated on April 15, 2015

1. The book containing diagnostic criteria used by mental health practioners-- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or "DSM"-- is updated every few years with diagnoses being added & removed, and the criteria ("symptoms") for some disorders often being changed.
2. The diagnostic process for mental illness is very subjective. There are no blood tests or other medical procedures that can confirm that a diagnosis is correct. But because insurance companies will only pay for mental health services if the client has been given a diagnosis, and the diagnosis is also the ticket to access many community services and programs, therapists are left with a choice of coming up with a diagnosis- whatever fits best - or turning the person away.
3. The mechanism by which most medications work in treating mental illnesses is also unknown. In some cases they were accidentally stumbled upon when the medication was being prescribed for another purpose.
4. Diagnoses tend to run in fads. In the 1990s and early 2000s it was ADHD. The newly added "Autism Spectrum Disorder" is the current trendy diagnosis, following "Aspergers" (aka "high functioning autism") which was introduced as a formal diagnosis in the mid-90s then removed from the DSM in a recent revision. Aspergers was criticized as having such a broad and vague diagnostic criteria that almost any smart and focused introvert could fit the label.
5. Often people who are struggling with mental health issues go through life collecting one diagnosis after another, not because they have several illnesses but because they've seen several mental health providers who have interpreted the subjective diagnostic criteria differently.
6. Though the diagnostic process is imprecise at best, mental illness is very real. There are mentally ill people in every community, some diagnosed, some not. Don't assume you can tell who they are, and don't expect that they will have identified themselves as such- the stigma is still too strong.


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    • Amy Browne profile image

      Amy Browne 2 years ago from Mid-Coast Maine

      And #7 is top secret apparently, because I edited it and forgot to change the heading - sorry about that!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is certainly the case in our family. I have a daughter that has had mental health issues since birth, and the range of her diagnoses is staggering! They seem to shift depending upon what her current presenting symptoms are at the moment, and where the focus of her treatment lies. We are grateful, however, for the fact that she has been able to obtain the services she has needed, and is able to function somewhat normally.