Multiple Diagnoses

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I’m 20 years old and I’ve been having mental health problems for about 5 years (well, longer than that, but have been getting help for the last 5 years)I’ve been in and out of various wards, and my longest admission was for about 18 months straight in an adolescent unit. When I left that ward, I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and some traces of O.C.D.. I thought at the time that seeing as they had ‘observed’ me for so long that they must be right. Then about 2 years after this I was admitted to a different ward, this time an adult ward, and after about four weeks my psychiatrist said she thought I had emotionally unstable personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, but that she didn’t necessarily disagree with my previous diagnoses. So now, my diagnoses reads something like this: depression, bi-polar, emotionally unstable personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and traces of O.C.D. And to be honest, the only one i know that I have is P.T.S.D.! My question is whether it is possible to have all these conditions? I know that often mental health conditions cannot be categorized easily by one diagnoses, but surely 5 diagnoses is excessive? Thank you for your time in reading this.

A: Yes, it’s possible to have more than one diagnosis but that’s not really the point. All of the diagnoses you have been given share some features. It sounds to me that the professionals are doing the best they can to figure you out, given that you may not present exactly in the same way at different times. You’ve also moved from adolescence to adulthood so that may have contributed to the change in diagnosis. What matters to me is that some very qualified people think you have some serious problems. But a diagnosis is not a sentence. It’s a name for the obstacles you need to find a way around to live your life.

At this point, I think you should be more concerned with what treatment you are getting than what label you’ve been assigned. I encourage you to talk with your treating psychiatrist about whether Dialectical Behavior Therapy might be helpful as well as whatever medication is being recommended. You’ve been struggling for a number of years. I sincerely hope that now that you are a young adult you can take charge of your treatment, work hard in your therapy, and find positive and affirming things to do with your life.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Nov 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Multiple Diagnoses. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/11/09/multiple-diagnoses/