This question of “Is a diagnosis important?” may seem a bit strange. Some people might say, “Of course!” while others might have more reservations, like “Well, how old is the individual? What are we talking about exactly?” I’ve been thinking lately about these related topics: diagnoses, labels, stigmas. I’ve been reading a lot of books about mental health. I’ve been observing and hearing about behaviors and mental health issues of my own children, extended family, and other people I know. And I have ended up at this question: “Is a diagnosis important?”
Is there an answer?
First of all, I’d love to believe that a diagnosis is always out there. Maybe I’ve been watching too many detective television shows recently, but I need to know that there is a resolution. By the end of the episode, I want to know what happened and why. I guess I’m bringing that mindset into my everyday life too. I want to know what happened and why. Why is my child or acquaintance or whoever I know acting like this? What can we do to get them the proper help?
But maybe real life is more complicated. Maybe people go through phases. Maybe children have hard times that they will grow out of and get over. And maybe there is a certain threshold for “normal” feelings that, when crossed, signals that the problem could require or have a “diagnosis.” But how does an average person know when the threshold has been crossed? Or do you just know?
If yes, then YES! Tell me!
For me, if there is a diagnosis to be had, I will be on team “Yes! A diagnosis is important!”
Why? I guess because I’ve been in the dark with diagnoses too much in my life. I’ve been misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, and otherwise confused about my physical and mental health. And it’s not fun. It’s not helpful. In fact, it’s a waste—a waste of time, money, energy, and effort.
The label challenge
But what about labels? What about stigma? Yes, these exist. Yes, things can get awkward. It can be awkward in many ways, and it’s not even limited to mental health. My personal “favorite” is when people hint around whether or not we will have any more kids. I often have a mental dialogue with myself like “should I just ignore this or should I talk?” If I decide to talk, usually I say something like “Oh, well, we were pregnant a little bit ago, but I had a miscarriage. It may have been a result of my endometriosis that I had surgery for, and who knows? Maybe there is scar tissue or something and I might not be able to have any more kids. I don’t really know if I have the stamina for another miscarriage. I think having one actually triggered my OCD to get really bad, so yeah. We’ll see.”
Life is complicated. But it’s more complicated when you know something is wrong but you don’t know what it is. Once you have a diagnosis, you can get help. You can move forward. And sure, you can also be labeled. I guess I’m just over that. I guess I don’t care so much. I’m open with my obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m open with my endometriosis. Because why not? Why should I be ashamed? If people think badly of me for having physical or mental health problems, then they are the ones with the real problem. They are the ones who don’t understand. And if we are catering to them, well, then very little will change for the way people look at mental and physical health problems in the future. And it needs to change. Don’t you think?
The age gap
This gets more challenging, of course, when we are talking about youth or children with these issues. Adult-me has different view points (having lived through many years and now having a stable relationship, etc.) than child- or teenage-me had. Maybe having those labels would have been hugely difficult for me in high school or middle school. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so ready to embrace having “OCD” or “endometriosis.” Teenagers and younger children don’t really understand or know what these things even mean besides that they make someone “different.” And being “different” isn’t always desirable.
So what’s the solution then? I’m not sure, but I think it starts with education. Knowledge. Exposure to people who are “different.” And that all requires an open dialogue. It requires people not thinking badly or differently of others who have mental or physical health challenges. And that’s not easy. But it’s something that can be changed, little by little, as those of us with those challenges step up and stop being ashamed ourselves—as we get help and prove that these challenges aren’t permanent road blocks in our lives—as we live our lives without embarrassment. Of course, all of that requires the availability of help and access to it. It requires us to have the stamina and diligence to do our part. It requires a lot. But I think it’s worth it. Do you?
Are you pro or against diagnoses? Labeling? Are change and acceptance possible?