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Diagnoses in the Mental Health Field

Describes Condition, not to Confirm Your Identity.

Written by Dr. Yemi Lekuti, PhD, LPC

We’ve seen videos on social media where people describe themselves as a given mental health disorder to draw attention to how they perceive themselves. Most of these videos highlight the assumption that their character is based on their diagnosis. The enneagram or The Big Five describes personality to help create a better understanding of who we are; diagnoses describe conditions we struggle with. This is why it is essential to talk about the DSM, the issue with attaching our identity to mental health diagnoses, and how our mental health diagnoses guide the treatment planning process. It is understandable why people may use platforms such as TikTok to help make sense of their issues with mental health. However, it is something that needs to be done with extra care.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder, DSM for short, provides a set of criteria for each disorder that helps providers make informed decisions about the most appropriate evidence-based practices and treatment options. This essential tool in the mental health field is regularly updated and revised to reflect significant changes in the latest research. Many people are unaware of the long list of diverse researchers who take extra care to ensure that they reflect psychological phenomena that occur in the world. This is a significant reason why research is being done to understand mental health struggles in oppressed or underrepresented populations to avoid taking conditions out of context.

With that in mind, it is crucial to understand that it does society a disservice when we post about how we identify ourselves based on our mental health struggles. Why? This line of thinking perpetuates stigma, self-doubt, and other negative consequences. More often, it creates confusion or strong convictions to a possible misdiagnosis. Remember, the DSM is based on a criterion describing how an individual struggles and to which degree. You can struggle and identify with being shy, but shyness is not a condition. Someone who posts about it may conclude their shyness is a condition when it is not. So, when people express themselves in the totality of their mental health diagnoses, it can skew how others describe their experiences. The issue with personalizing or over-identifying with mental health diagnoses is that it has little to do with our character.

Therapists do their best to take presenting problems contextually. When you see a therapist, they will assess your presenting problem and discuss how symptoms can present clinically and the treatment that has shown high efficacy in treating that disorder. Have you ever thought you were starting to have a cold and you take cold meds, only to find out you have a sinus infection? When you see a provider and they test you for a cold, flu, or Covid, you have a better chance of feeling better quicker because they know the appropriate method to help treat the condition. Evidence-based practice uses the best available scientific evidence to inform clinicians’ decision-making in the field. This approach involves integrating clinical expertise from systematic research.

This is not to say that people should not have some level of awareness regarding their mental health. It does help to be mindful that your diagnosis does not describe the essence of who you are. You may have a cold, but you do not describe yourself as a snotty person. Part of the therapeutic process is to assess your needs and your personality and create a dialogue about the best approach for optimal outcomes. 

You can find Dr. Yemi at CAYA Therapy & Wellness Solutions, YemiLekuti@CAYAWellness.com