This part of the website looks at diagnosis and diagnostic tools used in relation to mental health.

How is an Individual Diagnosed?

In general, to diagnose a mental health problem, a medical professional will look at:

  • The individual’s experiences:
    • Groupings of certain feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms may suggest different diagnoses.
  • How long the individual has been experiencing these things.
  • The impact it is having on the individual’s life.

To do this the medical professional may ask the individual questions about their mood, thoughts and behaviours – sometimes by using questionnaires or forms (discussed and linked below).

The medical professional will base the individual’s diagnosis on what the individual describes. For example, if the individual tells their medical professional they have been experiencing low mood, low energy, and a lack of interest in usual activities for more than two weeks, they may give a diagnosis of depression. If the individual’s symptoms change they might be given different diagnoses over time.

Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the individual is unwell right now. They could have a diagnosis of a mental health problem but, at the moment, be able to manage it and function well at work and at home.

Equally, the individual might not have a particular diagnosis, but still be finding things very difficult. Everyone’s experience is different and can change at different times.

Who Can Diagnose?

Typically, for common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, a general practitioner (GP) may be able to give an individual a diagnosis after one or two appointments.

However, for less common problems the individual will need to be referred to a mental health specialist (such as a psychiatrist), and they may want to see the individual over a longer period of time before making a diagnosis.

What is the Impact of a Diagnosis?

Receiving a diagnosis can be both a positive and negative experience. Why?

  • Positive:
    • The individual feels relieved that they can put a name to what is wrong with them.
    • It can aid the individual and their medical professional discuss what kind of treatment options are available.
    • An explanation of why they feel the way they do.
  • Negative:
    • The individual may feel that the diagnosis does not adequately fit their experiences.
    • The individual may feel that the diagnosis is to simplistic or put them ‘in a box’.
    • They may feel it is an insult of them or criticism of their ‘being’.

A diagnosis does not have to shape or determine the individual’s life; it may become a minor part of the individual’s life but does not have to ‘shape’ their entire life.

Mental Health Manuals

Medical professionals will refer to ‘mental health manuals’ which provide information on a variety of information concerning the range of mental health and behavioural conditions an individual may have. These include:

The need for a classification of mental disorders has been clear throughout the history of medicine, but until recently there was little agreement on which disorders should be included and the optimal method for their organisation.

The many different classification systems that were developed over the past 2,000 years have differed in their relative emphasis on phenomenology, aetiology, and course as defining features.

Some systems included only a handful of diagnostic categories whilst others included thousands.

Further, the various systems for categorising mental disorders have differed with respect to whether their principal objective was for use in a particular setting:

  • Clinical;
  • Research; or
  • Administrative.

Diagnostic Tools