What’s in a Diagnosis?

December 9, 2019

What’s in a Diagnosis?

At the start of the journey of addiction recovery, a first step often includes formal diagnosis from a medical professional.

Here are a few key things to keep in mind about diagnoses:

Why are diagnoses used?

For one, it’s helpful to use criteria to group symptoms together and get a better picture of correlating conditions and how they might interact. For instance, someone with bipolar will often have a different medication plan than someone with major depressive disorder and anxiety, due to the distinct brain chemical variations that exist in those categories.

Having a definitive definition of the struggles you face can help you and your team create a treatment plan that best addresses your individual needs and continue to have future practitioners on the same page since they will share the same language, so to speak

Secondly, formality and paperwork are related to insurance. Especially for those receiving high-level care or medical services outside of their normal coverage network, insurance companies want to know why they necessitate such circumstances and what the outcomes are expected to be.

At times this is helpful, so their doctors can make sure that the methodology and treatment are appropriate for your needs and a better chance of positive outcomes.

On the other hand, it can also be part of the insurance company wanting to speed through more expensive levels of care, hoping to push clients towards the outpatient level where they pay significantly less. It is an area of continued work to align expectations so the length of stay is truly based on the client’s needs.  

What does it mean?

The process of using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to evaluate clients is a way to use the most common criteria to classify someone’s mental health concerns. It is the coding and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association and used across the medical field.

A diagnosis usually requires that several symptomatic benchmarks are met over a period of time. This defines a condition that persisting and cannot be explained by something else, to rule out other causes outside of mental illness. And thus, your experiences, are generally described under these umbrellas.

This is why appointments and intakes are often quite long, as providers ask question after question. Quizzes and surveys online borrow from the DSM in an attempt to flag when people are answering in a pattern that could reflect a concern and direct people to resources.

Having a diagnosis can be the first step to accessing the healthcare that can help you move forward to a better quality of life. It may guide how you care for yourself in the future and adapt to work with your unique needs, not against them.

It may feel a relief to finally have a name and explanation, plus a form of treatment, for the challenges that have burdened your life. It can also be overwhelming to understand and accept how this may affect you as you move into the future.

What a diagnosis is not:

  • A label
  • A curse
  • A judgment
  • A personal failing
  • A person’s identity
  • A characteristic (you’re so OCD, oh I am acting like such an alcoholic, etc.)
  • A bad thing
  • A final, unchanging decision

What about everyone’s opinions?

They say psychiatry is an art. One practitioner may see it differently than another or have particular medications they prefer or avoid. This isn’t to say that one is definitively right or wrong. It often takes a bit of trial and error for people to find the best plan for them AND diagnoses can change over time.

What appears symptomatically as one disorder may shift to be better categorized as something else. Expect that it is not a fixed, one-size-fits-all system. This means it’s great to ask questions and take notes, so you can get as much information as you feel is helpful.

In today’s society, every mother, brother, or downright stranger has their take on psychiatric medications, disorders, and treatment. While the conversation about mental health is improving, people still question the accuracy or efficacy of this type of medicine. Some will have past experiences and suggestions of what they or a loved one has done and why you should try it. Someone might challenge if you need to be on medications or suggest taking less or changing teams.

No matter the opinions of those around you, remember – never start, adjust, or stop taking a medication without the guidance and oversight of your prescriber or another medical professional.

Many prescriptions have very specific instructions and procedures for stepping down or up dosages, to avoid major health ramifications and side effects. If this has been prescribed to you, continue to take it until you can have a conversation with your doctor.

Stay steadfast and trust your team of professionals and yourself. People may not understand the purpose at first, but if they are truly supportive they will get on board when they begin to see that this has a positive impact on your life and well-being.

While media portrayals aren’t always accurate, talking about the realities of bipolar is important. And though complex, treatment and recovery, a life free of addiction and managed bipolar, is possible. With a three-step approach, including diagnosis and customized care, Steps Recovery Centers is here to help you through the process of healing. Call our 24-hour hotline to learn more now – 385-250-1701.

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