4 Min Read

How to Get a Mental Health Diagnosis

Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, Psy.D.

Taking care of your mental health is essential at every stage of life—from adolescence through adulthood. According to the World Health Organization, good mental health is fundamental to our ability to think, maintain relationships, and enjoy a fulfilling life.

With that said, many people experience mental health problems from time to time. For example, you might experience psychological symptoms after witnessing a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster. Stressful life transitions, including marriage and moving, can also affect your mental health. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and disrupt your daily life, you may have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that interfere with your everyday life, early diagnosis and treatment can help you start feeling better. With a mental health diagnosis, you can enjoy a sense of relief that you can put a name to your mental health problem, and it can help you and your provider discuss the best treatment options moving forward.

How to Get a Mental Health Diagnosis

How common are mental illnesses?

Mental health disorders are real, common, and treatable. According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately one in five adults have a diagnosable mental illness in the United States.

Some common types of mental health disorders include:

In some cases, individuals may experience co-occurring mental health disorders. For example, many people with depression also experience anxiety. Living with a mental illness can also act as a risk factor for substance abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Who can diagnose mental illness?

When it comes to diagnosis and treatment, putting your mental health in the hands of the right person is essential. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some types of mental health professionals who can provide mental health diagnoses include:

  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors with training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions.
  • Child/adolescent psychiatrists: Child and adolescent psychiatrists are medical doctors specially trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders in children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • Psychologists: Psychologists earn a doctoral degree in psychology and are trained to administer psychological tests, make diagnoses, and provide mental health care.
  • Clinical social workers: Clinical social workers earn a master’s or doctoral degree in social work. Clinical social workers undergo training to diagnose mental illness and provide mental health services.
  • Licensed professional counselors: Counselors earn a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. Licensed professional counselors and mental health counselors are trained to diagnose and provide mental health services.

Where can you go for help?

Where you choose to seek help will depend on the nature of your specific mental health problem and/or symptoms. In most cases, the best place to start your search for a therapist is online. Some helpful resources also include:

  • Referrals: You can get referrals from your clinician, primary care doctor, local mental health association, or even from trusted friends and family members.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Your employer’s EAP can provide a referral to a provider. Some EAPs also offer short-term mental health services.
  • Insurance companies: Many insurance companies provide online databases of mental health providers.
  • Support groups: Although support groups aren’t substitutes for mental health care, they can provide valuable sources of support. Research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shown that support groups are associated with positive mental health outcomes and reduced stigma, especially for individuals experiencing drug use, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). NAMI offers a wide variety of support group resources, including NAMI Family and NAMI Basics.
  • Online therapy platforms: With relaxed HIPAA regulations under the United States Department of Health and Human Services, it’s possible to access mental health care from the comfort of your own home with online therapy platforms like WithTherapy.
  • Hotlines: If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) for immediate support.

What should you expect during your first appointment?

After narrowing down your search, spend a few minutes talking to potential therapists on the phone, and ask them about their approach to working with patients. If you feel comfortable talking to the provider, the next step is to schedule an appointment.

During your first appointment, your therapist will want to know why you’re interested in starting therapy. They might ask about your stage of life, relationships, physical health, and whether you’ve experienced poor mental health before.

During the first session, you’ll also be able to set treatment goals and explore your treatment options. In most cases, you won’t start diving deeper into your mental health problem during the first session. As a result, it might take a few sessions before you receive an official diagnosis.

Finding the Right Therapist

With the help of therapy, you should start to feel gradual relief from your mental health problems and develop different ways to cope with stressful situations. Therapy may feel uncomfortable at times—and that’s completely normal. Therapy is all about finding what works for you, exploring different treatment options, and working toward mental wellness.

To find the right mental health provider, reach out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a qualified therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the licensed therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you navigate your mental health problems and jumpstart your journey toward positive mental health.

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