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I Have A New Mental Health Diagnosis, Now What?

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW 

           The topic of diagnostics is a whole world unto itself in mental health. There is so much to unpack in this incredibly complex area. We will dig into the many different pieces of information that are important to consider as well as how best to manage your feelings about this impactful situation.

           The first thing I discuss when giving a new diagnosis is that it is important to consider how important this diagnosis is to you and how helpful or hurtful it can be. For example, many people are fully aware of their own mental health and are not surprised by a diagnosis, for others it may confirm something they have been scared of for years, and others yet may feel great relief at the thing they have been struggling with finally having a name. So, it is important to process and discuss how best it is for you to engage with this information. The second piece of this discussion is how much of a deep dive do you want? Some people want to know and understand everything about their diagnosis, others may feel overwhelmed by too much information. Either way can be appropriate as long as it is healthy for you.

           An important next step is to discuss the mechanics of a diagnosis, I like to explain how diagnoses can affect your ongoing medical record and insurance implications. Once given an official diagnosis it can become part of your ongoing medical record. If your therapist gives a diagnosis it goes in a record, that record sometimes is shared if part of a larger medical system, or if you as the client, share the record with another provider. This can be profoundly helpful but can also make your next provider make assumptions as well, this is important to be aware of. In regards to insurance, every therapist operates differently, but diagnoses have to be used to bill insurance. For that reason, your therapist may give a provisional diagnosis, meaning they are unsure of the exact diagnosis because they have not had enough time with you to decide upon one so the diagnosis may change. Further, many therapists feel the diagnosis is not the most important part of treatment which means they may give a broad diagnosis to placate insurance, others may build all of their work with you around this diagnosis. Either approach has pro’s and con’s as long as done appropriately.

           At this point you have been given the diagnosis, it has been explained to you in whatever level of detail you prefer, the mechanics of why a diagnosis is given has been explained as well as the implications for insurance and medical records. Now it’s about processing and next steps. How do you feel about this diagnosis? Does it surprise you? Does it feel accurate? Take time to feel what you feel about it. Then, ask lots of questions! All questions are appropriate. Why this diagnosis and not that one? Should I get on medication? What’s the best treatment? Will this go away? Etc. Ask anything you need to.

           Ideally the mental health worker you are discussing this diagnosis with gives you the sense that there are answers and ways to work with this mental health struggle. There are answers, there are things you can do. Take the time to process and feel what you need to, but also know there are people out there who know how to help. So, start looking for someone who you connect with you in a healthy way for you. If that first therapist or psychiatrist or treatment or medication don’t feel right, you can and should address that issue and change if needed.

           It is a big deal to take in the new information that you have been professionally diagnosed with a mental health struggle. Take time to ask questions and process, but also rest assured there are people who are ready to help you work through it. Also, know there are many out there that have similar struggles, you are not alone, and even though it can be scary, you are able to work through it to get it to a healthier place.

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