Getting a mental health diagnosis can be a relief. If you’ve been struggling with symptoms, attributing them to a specific condition can mean having a framework for making sense of how you feel and taking steps towards managing it. However, it can also be overwhelming.
The world of mental illness is still often misrepresented and stigmatized, and for many people, being told ‘you have a mental illness’ can lead to feeling disempowered and isolated, rather than strong and supported.
Right now, with Covid-19 and quarantine conditions giving rise to increased numbers of mental health conditions, more of us than ever are experiencing unfamiliar or intensified mental health symptoms and seeking diagnoses for them. So here are some important things to remember in order to make sense of your diagnosis, so you can use that information in a positive way.
1. You’re not alone
There’s a widely known mental health statistic that is hugely important to remember here – ‘1 in 5 adults in the US alone will experience mental health symptoms at some point in their life’. The most widespread condition is anxiety, followed by depression and bipolar disorder – while post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder are also moderately common.
It’s easy to feel isolated by your diagnosis, but the odds are that you already know several people struggling with their own symptoms, whether or not they choose to discuss it. It’s really important to remember that having a mental health issue doesn’t make you abnormal – on the contrary, you are going through something which is a very common part of human experience.
2. Everyone’s experience is different
Every mental health diagnosis should be based on a detailed assessment of your individual circumstances, symptoms, and needs – which means that many people can experience the same condition in different ways. This also means that you are unlikely to have every symptom of the illness you’ve been diagnosed with.
It’s easy to look up a disorder and be intimidated by the list of symptoms associated with it – but there’s no guarantee that just because some people have them, you will too. So don’t worry that getting an anxiety diagnosis, for example, means you’ll start experiencing nausea and panic attacks if you haven’t had either so far. Use that knowledge to recognize those symptoms if they do arise, but remember that there is no reason for you to start taking on new challenges just because you’ve identified the ones you have already.
3. You’re still the same person that you were before
Just because you have been told you have depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder (or anything else), you don’t now have to become, first and foremost, a depression, anxiety, or bipolar sufferer. A diagnosis gives a new name to part of your experience, but it doesn’t change who you are.
4. A diagnosis is a powerful tool for acceptance…
The first step towards getting through mental health struggles is to accept that you are experiencing symptoms, rather than spending energy fighting them. While it can be hard to do at first, accepting that you are suffering from a recognized illness means allowing yourself to spend time recovering, and in doing so, also reminds you that there is an end in sight. Use knowledge of your diagnosis to validate that self-acceptance, and give yourself the space you need to look after yourself.
5. …and provides a framework for recovery
Fundamentally, a diagnosis should be a resource, giving you the tools to navigate your return to good health. For example, knowing that you display common symptoms makes it easier to navigate existing resources for treating them. Speak with a doctor or therapist about classic therapeutic strategies for people with your condition – or do a controlled google search for them yourself. Remember that not every solution will work for you straight away – but there’s a good chance that you’ll find some useful tried and tested strategies.
6. It’s up to you who you tell, and when
Just because you’ve been given a diagnosis doesn’t mean you have to share it with everyone – unless you have been explicitly advised otherwise by your doctor or therapist. However, if it doesn’t feel helpful to tell friends, family, and colleagues in most cases, it’s perfectly reasonable to keep the information to yourself.
Equally, though, if you want to shout it from the rooftops, go for it! There is no shame attached to mental health, and you should never feel that you have to hide a diagnosis. The information is yours to use in whatever way makes you feel most empowered.
7. Be kind to yourself
Negative attitudes towards mental health are still out there, and it can be easy to lose confidence as a result of getting a diagnosis. However, you are just as strong, capable, valuable, and loveable a person as you have ever been – a diagnosis changes none of that. And remember – mental illness is equally as valid and challenging as physical illness. It’s exhausting, both emotionally and physically, and merits taking time and effort to manage it. If you need to rest for a day, skip out on plans, ask for help and support from someone, or just take some time out to focus on feeling calm and healthy, that’s all ok.
While it can be difficult to know how to cope with a mental health diagnosis at first, it can make it easier to explain what you need, seek targeted therapy, and reach out to support groups or people with similar experiences. While stigma sadly still exists around mental illness, it is an extremely common struggle, and it’s important to remember throughout that your condition does not change or define you – and you are never alone in fighting it.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Miranda Overett is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in her adopted home of Budapest. A PTSD and anxiety sufferer for almost 20 years, she is particularly passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health.
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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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