Getting the right mental health diagnosis and support resources is key to wellness. Learn how certain mental illnesses get diagnosed and where to get help.
Getting the right mental health diagnosis and support resources is critical to future wellbeing. We demystify how anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are diagnosed, and provide resources on where to go for help and support.
Understanding mental health symptoms can be hard to accept for some people. These psychological and physical symptoms can be confusing, scary, disruptive, and sometimes debilitating.
If symptoms get denied or ignored, they may worsen if left untreated. The first, best course of action is to seek the right diagnosis.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Everyone experiences stress, worry, and anxiety in day-to-day living. When anxiety symptoms become prolonged or misplaced, it may be time to seek help. Following is a short list of common symptoms related to anxiety disorder:
difficulty making a decision
Symptoms of Panic
When the body’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS) perceives a real or imagined danger, the fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered. A panic attack occurs when this response misfires.
Panic disorder falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. Panic attacks become a disorder when they are frequent or happen unexpectedly. They are followed by an intense fear of recurrence.
Besides the symptoms listed above for anxiety, panic disorder symptoms may also include:
shortness of breath
fear of losing control
Symptoms of Depression
Everyone gets sad. Everyone gets tired and lacks motivation from time to time. When a person experiences prolonged feelings of sadness and fatigue, lacks motivation, and becomes disinterested in everyday life, they may be suffering from major depressive disorder.
In addition to the symptoms listed above for anxiety, major depressive disorder symptoms may also include:
disinterest in hobbies, work, exercise, sex
lack of energy/motivation
Symptoms of PTSD
A person is diagnosed with PTSD when they experience unwanted, sudden reactions to traumatic events from the past.
Symptoms, including crippling guilt and shame, may be triggered months or even years after the event. Depending on the trauma, symptoms may be subtle. Or, they may be visceral and intense.
Some of the symptoms listed above for anxiety, panic, and depression may also occur in people diagnosed with PTSD. Besides these, PTSD symptoms may also include:
repeated recollection/reliving the event
avoidance of event-like situations/places
feelings of detachment
How Anxiety, Panic, Depression, and PTSD are Diagnosed
Only medical or mental health professionals can diagnose mental illness.
It helps to understand the basics of how mental illnesses are diagnosed. The proper diagnosis comes in partnership between you and your healthcare provider. Nobody can advocate for you better than you or someone you trust.
Diagnosing Mental Illness
As with any ailment, the first step towards diagnosing mental illness is to perform a physical examination and run lab tests (blood, urine, etc.). This is done to rule out any medical issues that may be causing or contributing to symptoms.
Imagining (ultrasound, CT, MRI) may be requested to rule out any adrenal gland abnormalities specific to panic disorder.
Next, the healthcare provider will do a psychiatric evaluation. This involves discussing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and may include a questionnaire.
If needed, the healthcare professional may consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Use the following links to gain a better understanding of the use of questionnaires in mental health diagnosis:
Treatments for Mental Illness
Accepting treatment for mental illness is a very personal decision. It should be made by you with help from your healthcare provider and those you trust.
Typically, there are two treatment options for mental illness:
Is Medication the Right Mental Health Treatment for You?
Medication has pros and cons, whether pharmaceutical or holistic. Some are fast-acting, while others take longer to become effective. The first medication may not work as expected and could be revisited.
Some people hear the word medication regarding mental health treatment and feel immediate defeat. Others feel relief. Regardless, the key is to work with your healthcare provider to find the best solution for you.
Be curious and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo or get a second opinion.
Therapies for Mental Illness
There are many types of therapies for mental illness depending on which one is being treated. These include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy, are used to help treat a variety of mental illnesses.
Mindfulness training and meditation are used to help sufferers calm and focus the mind.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), brainspotting, and other brain-based therapies are being used to treat people with panic and PTSD.
Light therapy is used for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, which falls under the umbrella of depressive disorders.
Virtual reality is a new, innovative therapy option for those suffering from anxiety.
… and more.
Therapy, like medication, is a personal choice. Explore. Investigate. The key is to choose what will work best for you.
Other Mental Health Resources
Being diagnosed with mental illness can be a lot to digest. The most important thing is to reach out for support. Get diagnosed and seek the treatments that are right for you.
Visit Mental Health Resources First Aid for more resources. You are not alone. Help is just a click or a phone call away.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours.
Disclaimer: We are not mental health professionals. Please seek qualified agencies for mental health care.
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