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How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, Treated

Sometimes you just need to know the basics. For instance, if you think something is wrong with your mind, your emotional life, and you want to get help for it, where do you even begin?

With today’s knowledge, the steps toward getting a valid mental disorder diagnosis and treatment are fairly simple. Unless otherwise required by your health insurance plan, you should generally start with a mental health professional — either a psychologist or psychiatrist. These are the specialists of mental health, and usually have the greatest knowledge and depth of experience to be able to diagnose you and setup a treatment plan with you that will be most effective.

If you haven’t seen your primary care physician or family doctor in some time, it never hurts to also see them at the same time — to rule out any possible physical causes of your symptoms. This is especially true if you have a health condition or family history of certain health problems (because sometimes physical maladies can mimic mental disorder symptoms).

8 Comments to
How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed, Treated

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  1. Thank you for this informative article. I would like to add that Licensed Professional Counselors are also mental health professionals. Not only do we provide psychotherapy but also do assessments and diagnosis of mental health disorders. Recommending a Psychiatrist is good advice however in my area most Psychiatrist have a waiting list of no less than 3 months at this time. Please don’t wait to seek help from a psychologist or Licensed Professional Counselor if you are struggling with issues in your life.

  2. When psychiatrists such as Nemeroff, Schatzeberg, Rush, or Keller — high on the list of those who have profited most by payments from pharmaceutical studies — are the authors of studies, the combination of drugs and psychotherapy is found to be most effective than either alone.

    When psychologists author such studies, psychotherapy is found to be as effective or better than drugs or the combination. There are many, many such published studies with this conclusion.

    The pervasive recommendation from psychiatry to combine drugs and therapy comes from an era when researcher opinions were largely bought and paid for. This is one of those manufactured “everybody knows” factoids.

    More recently, we have Bower, et al 2013: Influence of initial severity of depression on effectiveness of low intensity interventions: meta-analysis of individual patient data

    This study found that “low intensity” non-drug interventions effective for all kinds of depression, and recommended a stepped form of treatment in which drugs are reserved only for the cases resistant to various levels of non-drug treatment.

    I would suggest that anyone who gets a recommendation of psychiatric medication from any kind of medical practitioner seek a second opinion from a specialist familiar with the stepped care model — someone who is less likely to be quick with the prescription pad.

  3. “Good luck with your diagnosis and treatment!”

    Yes good luck because you may not realize that those with mental illness often do NOT have access to the health care system. Insurance policies for those with such conditions are typically priced several times higher than a basic health plan. Those with neuro psychological disorders (which often come in groups) typically find it hard to maintain a career and meet this type of expense with all the add-ons and uncovered expenses.

    There is about a 50% chance patients will find any relief from a given pill. There is an equally high chance the medication will exacerbate or create new symptoms – particularly when used in combination. In my case I have a neurologic condition in addition to mental health disorder which precludes the use of many of these medications (myocardial infarction can result from the added heart stress). Mood stabilisers such as Lithium and Depakote (prescribed for Bipolar Patients) are so toxic as to require weekly bloodwork to track how you metabolize the drugs. Other side effects from medications such as mood-stabilisers, anti-anxiety, anti-depression, (and anti-statins) include liver and kidney failure, and cognitive decline. It would be unwise to ignore the threat of major organ failure as a side effect, given the degree to which quality of life declines. Particularly in the event of heart failure.

    Don’t assume that if people aren’t taking pills they are irresponsible. There is no cure for these afflictions, and no treatment works consistently. No treatment works without side effects. Remember also, these individuals are the least likely to have access to health care because of the high cost of medications, diagnostics, and treatments for these life long incurable diseases.

    Realistically any neuro psychological disorder will eventually require you to modify your life substantially to keep the symptoms from going out of control. Best to be realistic about this earlier rather than later, if you are able to get a proper diagnosis.

    • When the full provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act kick in, it will be illegal to discriminate against a person for a pre-existing condition — including mental illness. In other words, health insurers won’t be able to deny you coverage. Our current insurance plan already does this on its own.

      Neuropsychological problems are indeed more complicated, and this simply diagram wouldn’t likely apply to most people with a neuropsychological concern.

      Indeed, the pill thing is even worse than 50%. The research shows that something like only 20-30% of people will respond to a given medication — the other 70-80% will feel no beneficial effects of it and will be forced to try another. And another. And another.

      Psychotherapy effects may be the same, since the first therapist you go see may not be the one who can best help you. Oftentimes people must try 2 or 3 different therapists before they find one who (a) is qualified to treat their concerns (e.g., has treated many people with similar concerns in the past) and (b) has a good rapport that you feel you can work with as a partner together in your care and recovery.

      I agree — it’s not always easy or simple. This was just to demonstrate there are two common paths for treatment of many people’s mental health concerns.


  4. Over 8 months ago, I had an episode which was a result of sleep deprivation. I was actually articulating my human psyche and exploring different aspects to psychology at the time. I was developing new theories for a self help book.

    I inadvertently became that focused and determined that I sacrificed my sleep to pursue my project. As a result, my body produced natural adrenaline to allow me to keep going. However I became addicted to that to a degree and received a surge of adrenaline that created a manic episode. I had full recollection of what, when, who how and why. My memory was fully in tact at all times however I had no control of behavioral.

    I had not suffered from any mental challenge in my 39 years and I knew what caused my situation. Unfortunately when I was taken to hospital I was not given the opportunity to explain nor did the medical staff want to know. I was detained and trapped for 3 weeks against my will. All they offered were a cocktail of drugs which unbeknown to them I had not been taking. They had advised that I was well and making progress.

    They were actually quite shocked when I provided some evidence and weren’t sure what to do. I was forced to take epilium to get out of hospital in the event I relapsed. If I failed a blood test they would have sent me back to hospital again without my consent. I was able to instigate a full discharge in 8 weeks so was only on them for
    a short time.

    The most disturbing part was that I was denied every human right and they were quick to judge and label me with Bipolar without even ruling out other factors such as brain tumors.

    Consequently I had the opportunity to research and validate the medical side to my
    project. I even illegally recorded 3 consults, took photos of my injuries that were a result of their care and kept the pills in order to substantiate my side. I was shocked to find out how patients became walking zombies on a cocktail of drugs that were meant to be helping but created more issues. I’m not a doctor but my studies are credible through experience. I have since published my findings in the form of a novel called Crazy Normal, Normal Crazy! It is available from

    I hope that this will instigate necessary changes that are required in the mental health sector and also extend research from a different angle. I was able to capture a great deal of my mental travels into my sub-conscious and have yet to finalize that part of my study. The initial components have been captured in the book mentioned above and provides an insight and outlook to how society has created some of these issues. To-date research appears to focus on the chemical imbalance or physical nature of mental challenges where as I was able to prove that your personal traits and emotions can manage this without the need for medication. Some may need medication initially but shouldn’t be long term. Mainly because the brain can be retrained if you focus on the cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptom.

    I hope this post provides those suffering with a mental challenge the faith that their life can be restored. I never refer to these conditions as an illness because if you are told you are I’ll chances are you ate going to feel or act I’ll and there is no incentive to improve. Wishing you all the best !

  5. I am a social worker and a psychologist and serve on the Board of the American Group Psychotherapy Assocation ( I would like to add that competently led group therapy is a wonderful option for persons suffering from “official” mental illnesses (bi-polar, depression, etc) as well as many if not most of life’s frequently painful challenges (trauma, loss, addictions, parenting problems, problems with parents, isolation, social anxiety, coping with medical illnesses and many more). Group offers a combination of support and constructive feedback from real humans not paid to interact with you that most suffering people find invaluable.
    Certified group therapists are licenserd clinicians–social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and marriage and family therapists, who are heavily trained in group therapy. We believe that people helping people is ultimately the way to go for most of us, even though seeking individual help with a competent therapist and prescriber is usually necessary first.

  6. I’ve just been speaking to my female friend. We are very similar in that we are both extremely creative, she’s a writer, and I’m a designer.

    I’m always out and about doing various hobbies, or learning new software to better myself. These past times never bore me. I love sport, films and music. I could talk about these subjects for ever, but at the same time I love non sensical nonsense chats.

    What bores me is most people. When ever they start talking I either switch off or complete their sentence in my head.

    I love it when I meet inspirational interesting people who inspire me with stories and tales of adventures, or funny people who don’t take life too seriously.

    I’ve finished with my last 2 girlfriends because I wasn’t inspired by them.

    I’m probably the same with friends too. Most people seem to be so generic.

    Why are my standards so high?

  7. How long generally should it take a psychologist to make a diagnosis? To define my question, if I have seen a psychologist twice with one session being cut short because of the psychologist not remembering when they close enough time with me to make a diagnosis? I would just like to know the allotted time it would take to make a diagnosis and not a preliminary diagnosis please.



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