A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Mental Illness

A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Mental Illness
A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Mental Illness

Mental health illnesses are considerable public health concerns. Unfortunately, such illnesses are becoming common these days, especially among those in isolation or who may feel burnout due to global concerns. They cause extensive disability and agony to those affected and significant distress to family members and friends. Thus, the diagnosis and treatment for such is a pressing matter that should be a top priority.

In most cases, mental illnesses coincide with addiction or substance use disorder (SUD). This is also known as co-occurring disorders and occurs when someone is diagnosed with mental illness and SUD at the same time.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health condition, consult a licensed medical professional immediately to determine how to help your mental health. During your first visit, you’ll undergo a proper mental health screening to learn the extent of your case and determine a course of treatment.

Mental health diagnosis is a critical step in determining the root cause of a mental illness. It’s also a method to find out which treatment procedure is the best fit for your condition. Therefore, a mental health diagnosis should be as accurate and thorough as possible. Otherwise, your mental health condition might get worse due to errors in treatment procedures. This is why a diagnosis must be correct.

A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Mental Illness
A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing And Treating Mental Illness

Here is a step-by-step guide to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses:

Step 1: Undergo A Physical Examination

A physical examination is the first step to diagnosing your mental health illness. It’s often performed by a licensed medical professional or a general practitioner. Additionally, conducting the examination is ideal to look for problems that may cause, result from, or accompany a psychological illness.

Sometimes, physical disorders produce symptoms similar to mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. For example, a thyroid problem or a neurologic disorder might be misdiagnosed as a mental health illness because of the similarities of symptoms exhibited by the patient. A thorough and accurate physical exam will leave no room for misdiagnosis.

Here are other conditions that may be mistaken as mental health illnesses:

  • Tumors in the central nervous system

  • Different cancer types (e.g., prostate, breast, bone, pancreas, etc.)

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Syphilis

  • Stroke

  • Head trauma

On the other hand, general laboratory testing procedures may also be necessary during a physical examination. These may include the following:

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests look for potential medical conditions that may cause symptoms similar to mental illnesses. For example, blood tests may find out that what you’re experiencing is due to anemia, hormonal conditions, or nutrient deficiencies.

  • Computer Tomography Or Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan: These tests examine your brain and rule out potentially serious illnesses, especially brain tumors.

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): This test records and monitors your brain’s electrical activity.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test determines if you have heart conditions that may contribute to your ill feelings and emotional responses. A heart illness may also show symptoms that mimic mental health illnesses.

If your doctor doesn’t find any cause that may link to physical illnesses, they will refer you to a certified and licensed mental health professional. This will be for the evaluation and determination of potential psychological disorders.

Step 2: Subject Yourself To A Psychological Evaluation

If you pass the physical examination, you’ll be referred to a mental health professional for a psychological evaluation. Licensed clinical psychologists and psychiatrists will be able to diagnose your mental health illness.

A clinical psychologist is a professional who specializes in addressing mental health issues. However, they don’t have a medical degree. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist is a medical professional (a doctor) who also specializes in addressing mental health issues.

A psychiatrist can prescribe you some medications to cope with symptoms of mental illnesses while a psychologist cannot. Yet both require practical experiences and specialized education to earn licenses in mental health professions.

Mental health professionals often start the evaluation with a deep conversation regarding the symptoms you’re experiencing at the moment. In most cases, casual talks with a therapist can yield to mental health diagnosis.

  • Screening

Screening is a more structured evaluation procedure to produce a more accurate diagnosis. In this procedure, mental health professionals will ask you questions based on what you feel and how it affects your life. These procedures will give them an insight into your feelings and emotions.

They might also ask you to answer questionnaires, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Taking such tests will ask you two questions:

  1. In the past few months, have you been depressed or troubled by feelings of hopelessness?

  2. In the past few months, have you lost the will to try doing the things you previously loved?

Here are other screening tools your psychologist or psychiatrist may use based on your condition:

  • General Health Questionnaire: This is for patients with minor mental health problems, particularly in the general population. It’s only used for patients in their adolescence and above—not for children.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7): This is a 7-item questionnaire that diagnoses panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety and determines their severity.

  • Insomnia Severity Index: As the name implies, this screening tool evaluates and diagnoses potential insomnia.

  • Hamilton Rating Scale: This tool has different versions, depending on the mental condition, such as anxiety and depression. It’s used to determine the severity of your mental illness.

  • Depression, Anxiety, And Stress Scale: This tool evaluates the presence and severity of depression, anxiety, and stress in an individual. Like GAD-7, it may not apply to children.

Be sure to answer these questionnaires as honestly as possible for a more accurate diagnosis. Otherwise, your therapist or psychiatrist won’t be able to diagnose your condition correctly.

  • Diagnosing

After a psychological evaluation, mental health professionals will start to diagnose your conditions based on your revelations. Most likely, they’ll use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to diagnose a mental illness.

This manual contains bases for hundreds of disorders. Your psychologist or psychiatrist will identify the criteria that fit your condition.

The mental health disorders in the DSM-5 are categorized into different classes, including:

  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders: This covers mental illnesses that develop during infancy or early childhood (before a child starts attending grade school). Some common examples are autism disorders, learning disorders, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

  • Mood Disorders: This covers mental conditions exhibiting depression and manic episodes (periods of extreme energy, hyperactivity, and excessive excitement) alternately.

  • Psychotic Disorders: This class covers mental disorders that lead to detachment from reality, such as severe hallucinations, issues regarding speech and thinking, and delusions. The most common example of a psychotic disorder is schizophrenia.

  • Depressive Disorders: This covers mental illnesses affecting your feelings and emotions that can hinder your functioning. Some common examples include premenstrual dysphoric disorder and major depressive disorder (depression).

  • Obsessive-Compulsive And Other Related Disorders: This class focuses on extreme obsession and repetitive actions. Most common examples include obsessive-compulsive disorder, trichotillomania (severe hair-pulling), and hoarding disorder.

  • Trauma And Stress Disorders: This class involves situations in which someone has experienced difficulty in coping with a traumatic and stressful event. Most common examples include acute stress disorder and PTSD.

  • Somatic Symptom And Other Related Disorders: People with these disorders may have trouble functioning daily due to significant emotional distress. Examples of these mental illnesses include factitious disorder and somatic symptom disorder.

  • Dissociative Disorders: This covers mental illnesses in which someone loses a sense of self. These include dissociative amnesia and dissociative identity disorder.

  • Eating Disorders: This class covers mental illnesses that cause disturbances in proper eating habits that can negatively affect health and nutrition, leading to serious medical complications. Usual examples are binge-eating disorder and anorexia nervosa.

  • Personality Disorders: This causes someone to be emotionally unstable, leading to unhealthy behaviors that destroy healthy relationships. Common examples include narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorders.

Other classifications include elimination disorders, gender dysphoria, sexual dysfunctions, paraphilic disorders, substance-related disorders, neurocognitive disorders, and many more.

Keep in mind that you might be diagnosed with more than one condition. Some mental illnesses usually co-occur, such as depression and SUD or anxiety and SUD. Mental health professionals should assess you for mental conditions that are typically diagnosed together.

Step 3: Formulate A Treatment Plan

Once an accurate diagnosis is available, it’s time to formulate the treatment plan that best fits your condition. The plan usually involves care offered by:

  • A psychologist

  • A counselor

  • A general practitioner

  • A psychiatrist

Team members involved in the treatment plan must have substantial knowledge of your diagnosis and treatment procedures. Many severe cases require residential or inpatient treatment, but most people receive treatment in an outpatient manner.

One of the most popular treatments for mental health illness is psychotherapy, also known as ‘talk therapy.’ In conjunction with psychotherapy, your psychiatrist may prescribe some medications to alleviate the occurrence of some symptoms. These medications may include the following, depending on your condition:

  • Anti-anxiety medications

  • Anti-psychotics

  • Antidepressants

Moreover, medication might be enough to treat your condition, especially if it’s a minor case. Usually, an effective treatment plan is a combination of medication and physical therapy or activity. This is also known as an alternative treatment option and includes massage, yoga, exercise, and acupuncture.

Mental health experts can formulate a treatment plan that will benefit you the most. This means the treatment plan will be created specifically for you because no two conditions are alike concerning mental illnesses.

The treatment plan usually involves a combination of multiple variations of psychotherapy. These methods are backed by research and are considered effective in treating a wide range of mental illnesses. Here are some of the most common forms of psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps mental health patients to identify and modify improper and destructive thinking patterns. These thought patterns are known to impact one’s behavior, feelings, and emotions negatively.

Besides, CBT focuses on altering negative thoughts that may worsen emotional challenges, anxiety, and depression. Consistent occurrences of such thoughts may have detrimental effects on mood. In this psychotherapy, unwanted thoughts are determined and replaced with realistic and objective thinking patterns.

  • Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is based on the principle of talking to someone who has substantial knowledge to find help, relief, and solutions. Through this method, one can improve their understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions that affect their behavior. It also helps people understand motivations that may influence their actions and thinking.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another form of psychotherapy based on the principles of CBT. However, it’s ideally applied to people suffering from intense feelings and emotions. Likewise, its primary purpose is to help people:

  • achieve making positive changes in life

  • discover and learn skills that will help manage hard feelings in life

  • learn how to accept and understand intense feelings and emotions in life

The term ‘dialectical’ makes DBT significantly different from CBT. It means understanding how two opposite things can be true concurrently. For example, changing your negative behavior while accepting your true self seems contradictory but can be achieved through DBT.

  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on alleviating symptoms of mental illnesses through improvements in interpersonal abilities. It resolves current issues and relationships instead of childhood and other developmental issues. In addition, IPT therapists are supportive, engaging, active, and full of hope, helping you make progress quickly and effectively.

  • Family-Focused Therapy

Family-focused therapy combines two psychotherapeutic methods: family-oriented psychotherapy and psychoeducation. It’s focused on treating family members as a single unit and a part of the entire treatment program. It educates them on what they must know regarding how to help a family member who has a mental illness.

Final Words

Mental illnesses are something one shouldn’t take lightly. If you suspect yourself of a mental health condition, consult a medical professional as soon as possible for physical assessments. They’ll refer you to a mental health professional if you don’t show signs of physical illnesses. They’re the ones who will be diagnosing your condition and treat it accordingly based on the evaluation. Remember to be honest in your evaluation to get an accurate diagnosis.

I'm NOT a doctor! I'm just passionate about health and healthy leaving. The information on this website, such as graphics, images, text and all other materials, is provided for reference and educational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. The content is not intended to be complete or exhaustive or to apply to any specific individual's medical condition.