mental health conversation
Reading time: 4 min

Mental illnesses affect people of all ages, genders, and races. There are factors that can increase the likelihood of a mental health disorder. However, these diagnoses are not limited to people with these characteristics. Understanding what this type of illness is and how it is diagnosed can help reduce the stigma associated with a diagnosis. This also helps the general population know what to look for that could indicate a potential disorder. 

What is a Mental Illness?

A mental illness, or mental health disorder, is a diagnosed condition that occurs when a person exhibits symptoms over defined periods of time. These disorders affect a person’s emotions, behavior, and/or thinking. They also interfere with someone’s ability to function in work, school, family, or social settings. Most notably, people with these diagnoses are often unable to complete necessary life tasks. These disorders are treatable and can be well-managed with proper care and intervention.  

Types of Mental Health Disorders

Mental illnesses primarily fall into one of these main categories: 

  • Mood Disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Anxiety Disorders (generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, OCD)
  • Personality Disorders (histrionic personality, narcissistic personality, borderline personality)
  • Psychotic Disorders (schizophrenia, general psychosis)
  • Eating Disorders (anorexia, bulimia, OSFED)
  • Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders (PTSD, acute stress disorder, adjustment disorders)
  • Substance Use Disorders (drug or alcohol misuse)

While not an all-inclusive list, this represents some of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in each of these categories. When professionals are considering a potential diagnosis, they begin by looking at these categories before assigning a specific disorder. 

How Mental Illnesses are Diagnosed

If you’ve noticed changes in your mood, actions, or emotions (or these in someone you love), you may be concerned there is an underlying mental illness. Here is a general sequence of how you may receive a diagnosis*:

Noticing Changes

If you are close to someone, you will likely notice a shift in behavior or things that are outside of the norm. Changes that impact relationships, work, school, or interest in activities point to a potential disorder. Another sign to look for is physical changes, such as rapid weight gain or loss, fatigue, or lack of personal hygiene. Take note of what you observe and a general timeline to inform your conversation with a mental health professional.

Reach Out to a Provider

After you have observed these shifts over a period of time, you should reach out to a medical or mental health professional to schedule an appointment. If the signs you are seeing are primarily physical, medical professionals may want to rule out potential underlying conditions. A behavioral health provider may also encourage this, but it is important to receive care from a licensed professional. If you have insurance, you can often find preferred providers on your online portal or by contacting your insurer. 

Meeting With a Mental Health Professional

In your first meeting with this provider, they will spend time reviewing your personal and medical history alongside the symptoms you have noticed. They will ask when you began noticing changes and the severity of what you’re experiencing. Remember, this is your perception, and they are not expecting you to have all the answers. There is no right or wrong, and your provider should not offer judgment based on your experience. 

Receiving a Diagnosis

Sometimes, your provider will let you know potential diagnoses after this initial meeting, but it’s also possible that they will want to meet more than once before they discuss a diagnosis. This helps them clarify symptoms and accurately assign them to a disorder. There’s also a chance that your diagnosis may evolve over time. What appears as generalized anxiety may actually be related to social situations, resulting in a shift in the listed disorder. As a reminder, this diagnosis is not a defining characteristic of you. It’s meant to help you and your provider better understand behaviors and thoughts, but you will also work to emphasize your strengths throughout treatment.

*This is not a replacement for medical advice. If you have any concerns about your mental or physical health, reach out to a medical or behavioral health professional.

Managing a Diagnosis

It can feel overwhelming to receive a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, and you may struggle to cope with this news. As you navigate taking care of your wellness, remember you don’t have to do this alone. It’s not uncommon for people to turn to substance use as a means of managing their symptoms, and this can create another layer of challenges. Likewise, you may have had a substance use disorder prior to experiencing behavioral or emotional changes and are now struggling to cope with both diagnoses. Through specialized therapy and dual diagnosis treatment options, you can manage both of these disorders simultaneously and experience freedom in recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Hope by the Sea

If you have recently received a mental health and substance use disorder dual diagnosis or have been struggling to manage these for years, Hope by the Sea can help. We offer a variety of treatment tracks, designed to meet your specific needs. Our dual diagnosis expertise helps you manage your substance use disorder and mental illness through developing healthy coping skills. Whether you are in the beginning stages of recovery and need a medical detox, are looking for residential treatment, or want to explore outpatient options, our Southern California center is here for you. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about the treatment options at Hope by the Sea.