How a Mental Disorder is Diagnosed

When you or a loved one is seeking treatment for an addiction or when there are signs of a problem, it may be necessary to consider the possibility of a mental health disorder. Although a mental health disorder is not always a contributing factors to an addiction, it is a common factor that may be complicating a treatment plan. Understanding how a mental health disorder is diagnosed can reduce any concerns that may relate to the process and evaluation.

What is a Mental Health Disorder?

Before it is possible to diagnose a mental health disorder, it is important to understand what it is and how it differs from normal behavior. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness refers to a medical condition that interrupts thinking patterns, mood or the way that individuals relate to others.

It can take many different forms and usually refers to a situation that is abnormal when compared to the general population. For example, depression refers to a severe sadness or upset mood that causes physical symptoms and may prevent an individual from engaging in normal activities.

If you are concerned about the possibility of a mental health disorder, then it is important to ensure that you or a loved one is diagnosed. Even if you or a loved one is abusing a substance, there may be a mental health disorder that is contributing to the behavior.

Ruling Out Physical Disorders

According to Psych Central, a diagnosis of a mental health disorder starts with ruling out any physical conditions or factors. If an individual is abusing drugs or alcohol, then the changes to mood or behavior may be related to substance abuse. If the individual is not abusing a substance, then it may be caused by a physical condition.

Doctors may run several tests to rule out any physical conditions that may cause similar symptoms. If a physical condition is discovered, then appropriate treatment may eliminate the symptoms that seem similar to a mental health disorder. If a doctor determines that there are no physical factors that are contributing to the behavior, then it may be time to consider the possibility of a mental health disorder.

Talking to a Specialist

After your doctor has ruled out physical conditions, you or a loved one may be referred to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. The specialist will often ask several questions about mood, feelings, behaviors and activities. They may use questionnaires or similar methods of evaluating your symptoms and feelings.

Answer the questions as honestly as possible. A specialist will use the information that you provide and a diagnostic manual to determine if a mental health condition is the cause of the behavior. According to Web MD, a specialist uses an updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, or DSM, to determine if your symptoms match any mental health disorders.




In general, you must exhibit a specific number of symptoms before a professional will diagnose the condition. The number of symptoms will vary between different mental health conditions and is usually based on the most prevalent behaviors that an individual is exhibiting.

When there are obvious changes to the individual’s behaviors, the specialist may observe the behaviors before making a diagnosis. In other situations, a specialist uses the information that was provided on paperwork or after asking several questions because it is not always possible to observe behaviors. Loved ones may also be asked a few questions, especially if the individual who is being diagnosed is a teenager, child or makes a request.

The process of diagnosing a mental health disorder may seem complicated, but the primary goal of running several tests is to rule out any physical factors that may be contributing to the behaviors. If there are no physical signs of a problem and substance abuse is not causing the behaviors, then a mental health disorder may be diagnosed by a specialist.


  • by Debbie Hamler
    Posted October 28, 2014 12:52 pm 0Likes

    My 26 yr old son needs a mental health diagnosis (strong FH of mental illness, ADHD) in the family so he can get help for his marijuana use; he is using that and cigarettes but is barely functioning. The problem is he just applied for Medicaid, so he presently does not have any insurance. I am a health professional (have ADHD and depression also) and I don’t know how one functions without the medicine after going off of it cold turkey.

    We also have a FH of suicide but I don’t think Josh is thinking of that. He lives with my husband and our youngest son – Ben who is 15 – good friends. Got any help or referrals? Debbie, bioMom my phone # = 616-826-3712. Thank you

    • by Debbie Hamler
      Posted October 28, 2014 3:54 pm 0Likes

      I had typed – comment before this morning. Do you know where it went? my phone = 616-826-3712

      • by Crystal
        Posted October 30, 2014 2:53 pm 0Likes

        Hi Debbie,

        I passed your info off to Rob, one of our counselors. I believe he is calling you now.

Comments are closed.

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