Lots of people are uncomfortable with having a mental health diagnosis because it makes them feel like they’re reduced to a label. We live in a culture where mental health has not had the best reputation. There is a stigma - and although this stigma is unfair (as stigmas are by nature), this negative attitude towards mental health can prevent a person from seeking treatment.
On the other hand, there are lots of people who feel empowered by knowing their diagnosis. Maybe they’ve been struggling for years and have felt confused or alone with their issues. Maybe they’ve been misdiagnosed for years* and have received treatment that has not helped them as a result of that inaccuracy. Sometimes the discovery of an accurate diagnosis is the first step towards healing or, at the very least, understanding why something is happening. (*And misdiagnosing is not exclusive to mental health, but also physical health - which can also be extremely harmful and frustrating).
Most of what is relied on for determining a mental health diagnosis depends upon the self-report of the person receiving the diagnosis (or sometimes by the report of their loved ones). This is not to say that people don’t know themselves well enough to accurately describe what’s going on with them. It can be hard to talk about personal struggles or emotional issues. It can take time to develop a level of comfortability with a provider to really dig deep into issues that may make a person feel vulnerable or afraid to disclose.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a battle with the stigma of mental health.
I never want to make anyone feel like they ARE their mental health diagnosis. In the therapy world, we call this “pathologizing.” I’ll often say to a person, “There is no diagnosis that can tell me everything I need to know about a human being. YOU are not disordered. You are not your OCD [or insert any diagnosis in the DSM-5].”
I also feel that it is incredibly important to openly discuss diagnostic impressions with clients. People have a right to know and understand what goes into their records. Sometimes these conversations can be challenging, but I always find myself going back to the most relevant part about diagnosing: The most important part of a diagnosis is how it informs the treatment plan.
I tell people not to fear the DSM-5 book that sits on my desk (even though I know that the stigma is real and that many people have suffered serious discrimination, rejection, and pain as a result of ignorant views on mental health). I tell people that I don’t think I’ve met a person who hasn’t been impacted by a diagnosis in that book - either directly or indirectly. I also do my best every day as a therapist to convey the message that people who struggle with mental health and emotional health issues are safe in my presence, accepted for who they are, and never treated with judgment or ridicule.