Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
June 17, 2022

Will a Diagnosis Do More Harm Than Good? The Pros and Cons of Diagnostic Labeling

If you’re struggling with your mental health but you don’t know what’s wrong, it can be helpful to see a therapist or psychiatrist. You might learn something about yourself through the process. One thing is for sure – you’ll learn very quickly that having a diagnosis can be both a relief and a curse.

The pros and cons of labeling psychological disorders are many. Receiving a diagnosis can grant you access to resources that can help. You don’t have to struggle with your mental health alone. The downside of having a diagnosis is that you may feel exposed and hard on yourself for having this diagnosis.

Diagnostic labels can increase stigma and create stereotypes. People who receive a diagnosis might be afraid of what others will think. For example, “if people find out I have a diagnosis, will they think I’m dangerous?” It can be difficult for an individual not to feel negative feelings about themself when they receive a diagnosis. Someone with a diagnosis may also be worried about rejection and become defensive and reluctant to participate in their treatment.

When it comes to mental health, millennials are more inclined than older generations to talk about difficult subjects related to mental health. More and more people are coming forward with their diagnoses and starting conversations around mental health. But we as a society still have a long way to go. I’m going to go over some of the pros and cons of diagnostic labeling based on what I see with my clients.

Pros of Diagnostic Labeling

Having a diagnosis opens doors to bettering your mental health. You can get resources, such as deadline extensions if you have ADHD. If the people in your life know about your diagnosis, they can be there for you when you need them with the knowledge of what is really going on. And of course, a diagnosis will help you and your therapist work through your challenges.

Diagnoses help us understand our mental health challenges. You may not know why you can’t focus – it could be ADHD. You may not know why you can’t get out of bed most days – it could be clinical depression.

Many people come to me not knowing their particular diagnosis. I work with millennials with anxiety and ADHD. There have been multiple occasions when I’ve diagnosed a client with ADHD and they had no idea that they had it. But once they learned what it was, they often felt relieved. The relief comes from finally understanding what’s wrong.

And let me be clear – if you have a diagnosis, there is nothing wrong with you. You simply have a brain disorder that affects your functioning. But the good news is, once you know what you’re dealing with, you can start to treat it.

pros and cons of labeling psychological disorders

Cons of Diagnostic Labeling

One of the biggest cons when it comes to diagnostic labelling is that there are often barriers to receiving your diagnosis. The gatekeeping that occurs when you go the doctor to find out what’s wrong is infuriating. They tell you they can’t diagnose you because they’re not a psychiatrist. So they send you to someone who can’t see you for 6 months. Meanwhile, you’re silently suffering with no idea what’s wrong.

Once you have a diagnosis, it can be complicated. You may feel like there’s something wrong with you. You might worry about what other people will think. Society hasn’t caught up yet when it comes to understanding and helping people with mental health considerations.

The fear of being stigmatized and stereotyped is valid, because it happens all the time. People are often afraid of what they don’t understand. If you choose to “come out” to people with your diagnosis, be prepared for mixed responses. Many people will call you “brave” for telling someone that you have a diagnosis. It shouldn’t be considered brave to talk about your health. 

Plenty of people have invisible illnesses. A mental health diagnosis is, for all intents and purposes, usually invisible. But the difference between a mental health diagnosis and a physical health diagnosis is that there’s less stigma attached to being physically sick or injured. People are more comfortable, in general, talking about a physical illness. The medical model of the healthcare system, specifically in regards to mental health, doesn’t translate into helping the people who have been diagnosed and need help for their mental health. 

Psychological Impact of Labels

Receiving a mental health diagnosis gives you a label. It’s one you probably never wanted to have. While feeling awful all the time or acting impulsively often doesn’t feel good, it can feel worse to label those feelings as Major Depressive Disorder or ADHD. 

Something I see with my clients a lot is frustration over the label. And I get it, having a mental health diagnosis sucks. But you know what sucks even more? Living with ADHD or anxiety and not knowing what it is. Because when that happens, it’s very easy to go into “what’s wrong with me?” mode or tank your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

You’re allowed to feel shitty about having a diagnosis. But remember how shitty you felt before you knew what it was. Now that you know, you can get help. I hope that you feel relieved to know what’s wrong. I means you can take steps to feel better!

Therapy Can Help You Sort Out the Pros and Cons of Diagnostic Labeling

Not sure how to manage a new diagnosis? Consider therapy – I can help you work through your challenges and come up with goal-setting strategies to keep you on track to reach your goals, despite a diagnosis.

During our work together, you’ll learn how to set realistic goals and see them through. We’ll come up with coping skills to deal with your symptoms and help you step confidently into the world knowing what you’re dealing with and how you can manage it.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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