If your teen has been experiencing difficulty with feelings, having a hard time at school, not getting along with peers, and not able to think clearly, this likely feels very confusing for them. He may feel that “something is wrong” with him or that he’s “not like his peers”. And if you as parents or other family members are not sure what to look for regarding a mental health concern, then you might be thinking that your teen’s struggles are simply a part of adolescence. You might brush off what your teen is going through as a “life stage” and nothing more. Without the help, support, and reassurance from family members, your teen might only become more confused and perhaps his challenges may become more exacerbated.
However, when a teen is evaluated by a mental health professional, what appeared to be confusing experiences can be translated into symptoms of a specific illness. A psychologist or psychiatrist knows what to look for in teens and can assess experiences to see if they meet a mental health diagnosis. For many teens, having a name of a specific illness can bring them great hope and help them feel as though they are not alone. Perhaps more importantly, a diagnosis can help a teen make sense of their experiences, giving them a clear foundation upon which to move forward. Sometimes, having a diagnosis can help reassure a teen that in fact nothing was wrong and that he is not at all different from his peers.
Benefits to Having a Mental Health Diagnosis
Parents and caregivers may find that there are many benefits that come with having a mental health diagnosis, if a teen’s experiences point to one, such as those listed below.
A diagnosis sets the stage for treatment. A diagnosis can provide a clear piece of information about your teen’s mental health. A diagnosis can dictate the next action step. For instance, if your teen was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder then you might consider medication and psychotherapy. However, if your teen was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then part of treatment will focus more specifically on how your teen might heal from and overcome the trauma. In fact, with a diagnosis, everything else becomes clear – types of medication, therapeutic modalities, interventions, and treatment in general. Getting the right diagnosis might also determine how you will respond to your teen, and care for them.
A diagnosis can boost positive feelings. Your teen might have felt like the odd one out, or weird among his friends. Yet, when a teen has an explanation for what was going on inside, this can lift the burden of feeling like something was wrong. Furthermore, having a diagnosis can also help a teen feel hopeful – they don’t have to feel this way any longer. With help, they can get better and return to how they once felt. And a diagnosis can also help a teen feel supported by those who know the illness they are experiencing. A teen might feel supported by the mental health provider, by their parents, and by the mental health field in general. Lastly, a teen might feel as though they are not alone in their experiences when given a diagnosis. Although a diagnosis can feel like a label to some, it can be the very thing that connects your teen to resources and supportive people.
A diagnosis facilitates communication among service providers. When your teen’s mental health provider talks to your teen’s doctor, that doctor will automatically be able to interpret your teen’s general psychological condition. A diagnosis provides a convenient way for professionals in the health field to refer to your teen’s condition and how to appropriately respond. In the same vein, a diagnosis immediately allows those that are involved in treating your teen’s mental illness an understanding of the symptoms your teen might be experiencing as well as how that might be affecting other areas of your teen’s life.
A diagnosis can lead to your teen seeking their own support. Your teen and even your entire family may be asked to participate in a variety of mental health services. For instance, these may include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, mentoring services, and more. However, teens are often curious and they may seek out their own forms of support, including researching and finding out more about the illness. Teens might talk to their peers if they feel comfortable. They might find other teens online who are experiencing the same condition. And some teens might even become advocates for creating change regarding the psychological illness they are experiencing.
A diagnosis can help heal the entire family. If your teen was having a hard time, as a parent, you might have been blaming yourself. Or you might have noticed your teen’s symptoms affecting his relationships with the rest of the family. Siblings, aunts, uncles, and other relatives might have been worried. Once a teen has a mental health diagnosis and treatment is underway, relationships in the entire family can improve.
A diagnosis can open the door to support at school. When teens are diagnosed with certain illnesses, they may be eligible for special education services such as in-class tutoring, after-school tutoring, and/or participating in special education classes. Furthermore, some diagnoses require the development of an Individualized Education Plan, which in turn can identify other in-school services such as counseling and occupational therapy.
Downsides to Having a Mental Health Diagnosis
Believe it or not, there are some disadvantages to your teen having a mental health diagnosis. Despite the advantages listed above, sometimes a diagnosis can interfere with the process of getting better. Here are a few downsides to watch out for:
A diagnosis can slowly become a teen’s identity. Sometimes, a teen can identify too much with their diagnosis. They might let the diagnosis define who they are. For instance, they may allow the diagnosis to overpower their life. A depressed person stays home; an anxious person is frequently fearful; a bipolar person has large swings of mood. A teen might identify with the diagnosis and continue to buy into the false idea that something is wrong with them.
A diagnosis may become an excuse for not wanting to change. For instance, if a teen has been diagnosed with depression, they might choose to stay home and ignore the opportunity to spend time with friends. When this happens, a teen loses the chance to heal, stretch, and grow. By identifying too much with a diagnosis, a teen may continue to hide behind it and avoid the chance to heal and change.
A diagnosis labels a teen. Although there are many benefits to having a diagnosis, one clear downside is the tendency to see teens through the lens of their diagnosis and not as the individuals they are. Sadly, people perpetuate labeling by referring to others in ways that are belittling, such as “Joe is bipolar”. Joe is not the disorder itself; Joe is a human being with feelings, thoughts, aspirations, dreams, and hopes, just like everyone else. He happens to have a mental illness. With the right treatment, it can be managed and not become an obstacle to reaching those hopes and dreams. And what’s worse is that a teen may buy into the label they have been given. It’s important to help a teen recognize how the illness is affecting them uniquely. This can help a teen not lose their individuality underneath the label they’ve been given.
A diagnosis might cause feelings of fear in a teen. Although some teens might feel supported and as though they are not alone, others may feel a great deal of uncertainty. Psychiatric diagnoses can be different than medical diagnoses. A medical or physical illnesses may be easier to understand, and a teen might have a sense of what treatment will look like with this type of diagnosis. But a mental health diagnosis may be elusive and hard to grasp. It might make a teen feel afraid for the future and feel more confused about who they are and what’s going on with them. It’s important that you allow your teen to participate in the conversation with the mental health provider. Let your teen ask questions and be involved in the discussion about treatment. Give your teen a voice about their own mental health and their general well being.
A diagnosis isn’t always accurate. This can be a frustrating experience for your teen and your entire family. If your teen has been evaluated properly by a board certified mental health practitioner, then there’s a very good chance the diagnosis accurate. However, in some cases, a diagnosis is not accurate, leading to treatment that doesn’t address the issues at hand. To ensure your teen gets the most accurate diagnosis, provide the mental health professional with as much information as possible. In some cases, a therapist or psychologist will not provide a diagnosis for many weeks, after there has been enough time to gather information.
Benefits Outweigh Costs
In the majority of cases, the benefits of having a mental health diagnosis far outweigh the disadvantages. The hope, treatment, support, and possibility for healing that comes with having a diagnosis can turn a teen’s life around. Furthermore, most if not all of the disadvantages listed above can be addressed. In fact, whether your teen is experiencing the benefits or not, they should explore their diagnosis with a therapist. Doing so can help them work through their worries, fears, and concerns. As parents, you’ll also want to support your teen by creating opportunities to talk about what’s going on. You might also educate yourself on the illness your teen has been diagnosed with.
Although there are sometimes challenges to having a diagnosis, your teen has access to greater amounts of support in and out of school with an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect that your teen is having mental health symptoms, contact a local mental health provider and have your teen evaluated today.