When you are diagnosed with an illness, especially when you have a mental health condition, you should always get a second opinion. Or a third. Or a fourth. Get as many as you can. The more you get, the more expert evidence you can collect as to what the real issue is.
As a patient, it’s important to be as informed as possible about your own condition. It’s your body and you have to live with it. You decide how to react to your situation. Educating yourself about diseases and treatments and understanding your symptoms will help you to make decisions on what to do because, ultimately, it’s up to you.
Don’t immediately accept what your family doctor says because they have the letters MD after their name. While they are more knowledgeable than you about medicine, they are still human, and humans make mistakes. Even doctors have bad days and can miss important aspects of your diagnosis.
Doctors also have different life experiences, which may give them different ideas about your diagnosis. A doctor who just treated a patient with the rare condition known as porphyria — a patient with your symptoms — may consider that as a possible diagnosis for you. A doctor who learned about porphyria once in med school and has never personally dealt with a patient who has it may not even consider it.
Here are some of the variables involved in your doctor’s decision on how to diagnose and treat you:
- Their level of education and expertise (this includes if they participate in continuing education)
- Their career history
- Whether they work with a team of other doctors they can consult with
- Their personal life experiences
- Their mood that day
- The amount of time they have to treat you
- Their relationship to you
- Whether they make money from prescribing certain drugs
- The tools they have available
- What they think about your behavior during their consultation with you
If you break your leg, your doctor will take an X-ray, show you the evidence, and put your leg in a cast. With a mental health diagnosis, all medical professionals have to go on is a set of behaviors that can’t be represented physically. And those behaviors are usually described by you or others, so they are subjective.
Some doctors are aware of all the variables involved in their perception of the way they treat patients. Some aren’t. This can be a problem. All you can do about this issue is be informed and aware. Recognize that the way humans frame stories involves many of the variables from the above list. This includes you.
So, the more diagnoses you gather, the more evidence you can collect. Review all the evidence, including what you think and believe about yourself, and compare it. It will help you see common denominators. Make sure you find doctors who will let you participate in the discussion about your illness and the treatment for it.
At the least, always go to the facts. These are the variables that are based in reality. Ask yourself: What do you know to be true about your situation?
Stethoscopes photo available from Shutterstock