There are a lot of people in the world that are looking for easy, convenient answers. Not a week passes when I don’t receive correspondence from someone asking, “Am I Bipolar?” or “Is my loved one Bipolar?” And my response to all of these people is the same. “I’m not qualified to make that kind of statement. You need to discuss everything you just told me with a mental health professional.”
It’s not hard to find statements on the internet, throughout mental health websites, and advocates talking about how important it is not to self-diagnose or attempt to diagnose a loved one. But, I’ve yet to see anyone really address the question, “why?”
It’s not that difficult to tell if someone needs to be speaking to a mental health professional. A mental illness is defined as some form of behavioral or mental pattern that impedes a person’s ability to meet the basic needs of human existence, often compared against Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs as a rule of thumb. Once you understand that, it is much easier to see in the way a person conducts their life.
What is not so clear are the details of that person’s history, life, and medical history. Furthermore, many mental illnesses look very similar. People regularly confuse Borderline Personality Disorder with Bipolar Disorder because they both can include drastic swings. However, the details of those mental illnesses differ greatly.
Details are vitally important. A lot of loved ones of the mentally ill do not get to see all of the details that will really help explain the whole picture. We keep a lot buried and hidden away from others. Furthermore, many mentally ill people do not always understand what details point to symptoms. It’s easy to view a “minor quirk” about ourselves as just part of our personality instead of a problem.
That makes the work of mental health professionals all the more difficult because we don’t necessarily know what information needs to be communicated. That’s a knowledge that we gain over time as we grow to understand our mental illness and how it manifests in each of us, specifically.
The biggest threat of self-diagnosis is convincing yourself that you have a certain mental illness. The biggest threat of attempting to diagnose a loved one is convincing them that they have a certain mental illness. Because an unwell mind can latch onto that and hold tight to it as an explanation for why things are the way they are. Why is that bad? What if the person becomes convinced that they have the wrong mental illness? How long is it going to take to convince that mentally ill person that they do not have that mental illness? Months? Years? The rest of their life?
Diagnosis by a professional is the only way to go. Yes, misdiagnosis happens. The doctor may not be as knowledgeable on a particular mental illness, the patient may not be cooperative or communicating, important details may get overlooked. There are numerous reasons for misdiagnosis even in the best of conditions. But, that can be corrected by the patient educating themselves on their diagnosis, working out how it affects them specifically, and openly communicating with their professionals about what they learn and the affects of their treatment.
If you take nothing else from this blog post, I want you to understand this. There is NOTHING simple about confronting, fighting, and overcoming mental illness. Even getting a correct diagnosis can be hard and can take time. Do not make that process more complicated for yourself or your loved one by attempting to diagnose. Leave that to qualified professionals.
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