This is a discussion examining our industrialised world’s phobia of attaching a diagnosis, or labels, to a personal problem.
In medicine, a diagnosis is required to accurately and effectively address a specific condition. There is no use treating all chest infections in the same way. Using an anti-bacterial medication on a fungal or viral infection will simply complicate things. When it comes to our mental processes, the same rules apply.
There are two primary and linked reasons that mental illness is not presented for professional diagnosis. The first is based on the stigma that still pervades most societies around mental illness. An idea that regards mental illness as somehow weak. Why? It is fear of the unseen and unknowable. We can do a pathology test for a bacteria, identify it, prescribe an appropriate antibiotic, and it is all but over already. We hardly need to be present for the process to be effective. Mental illness is an invisible pathogen. That makes it scary to the base social animal that we all are.
The second reason is a misplaced fear/refusal to be ‘defined’ by a label. This, again, is a product of the stigmatization of mental illness. When a diagnosis is reached in medicine, it is a good thing. A specific issue has been identified, and by common experience, the likely manifestations of the issue, and a solid treatment plan has already been made available within the act of the diagnosis. Mental illness is no different.
Let’s get past the misconception that diagnosis of a mental illness is a lifetime sentence. Yes, some issues are physical problems; hard wiring or genetic issues that are not approachable by mind therapy processes. Example: no amount of psychotherapy is going to solve a base cerebral palsy or autism issue. It can help integrate that person into society, but can not treat the base physical issue/s.
Acquired issues like burnout, PTSD, anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, post abuse issues; these are the things that carry unnecessary stigma, and are by no means lifetime issues. Untreated, the issues can affect a lifetime. Worked on, these issues offer keys into our deeper and more authentic, freer selves.
Why is a diagnosis so useful? Take PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for our example. In understanding the diagnosis of PTSD, we can reasonably predict a spectrum of likely and probable manifestations of that PTSD in the personality. For example, more often than not, the underlying personality is going to be one of ‘balanced pessimism’ with a fated optimism overlay [pursuing the good, whilst not being able to see it actually ending well, nor to feel anything but a foiled end result approaching.] This person is likely to actively avoid and reject pleasure as they more greatly trigger the feelings of the approaching ill fated ending, falling into distractions of often superfluous routine. Everything about the PTSD model shows a condition that will aggressively fight to remain hidden and in effect, destroying relationships [better to hurt now, than later], frustrating plans [it will all be for naught in the end], and pushing away intimacy [this is too close, triggering association of present with previous wounds and wounders].
Contrast this against chronic burnout, and the anticipated manifestations will be materially different. The burnout base personality is more often a core decisive optimist with a heavy blanket of inertia and pessimism overlaying all thought processes. Instead of being fated to fail, as in PTSD’s complex, things could work out very well and possibilities are clearly seen, but the initial obstacles feel so overwhelming that to take the first step is almost physically painful. There is a weight of things that are waiting to go wrong on any new project or thing. In burnout, it feels like there are always vultures and jackals nearby, watching you closely, waiting.
In burnout, one is always waiting for the next avalanche and doing as much as can be done to prevent it happening, as opposed to PTSD’s wanting to believe it won’t happen, but knowing that it eventually will; leading to thoughts of ‘all of this effort will be wasted, so its barely worth the effort to start’. As you can see, PTSD tends to manifest differently at many levels. Regardless of the diagnosis, this is where labels are so useful.
All issues have their own profiles. A base depressive person without PTSD or burnout needs a different approach and needs different help when in the grips of a bottom-out. Someone with dominant anxiety issues will need a different approach again from one driven by BiPolar manic anxiety issues. Diagnostic labels are useful.
Here is the part where care is required. Labels are useful tools, but they do not define an identity. The moment a label defines a person’s identity, it becomes a mask, overlaying and hiding the base issues under another layer of sound-bite riddled murk and muck. To understand one’s self as having chronic burnout allows identification and familiarization with that condition’s manifestations. In turn, these understandings allow awareness’s to be cultivated, tools to be learned and used. A good diagnosis allows issues to be dealt with effectively.
Illustration: To be a person with an addiction, and to personally identify as an addict, is vastly different in energy from someone identifying as a person who has an addiction issue. In exploring the person first, the label no longer defines that person, but describes a condition currently in effect in that person.
The diagnosis is critical, because the personal connection issues of an Asperger’s adult will be vastly different to the connection issues of a person with a substance addiction.
All effective internal explorations will focus on this as a key concept. You are you first. Once you know who you are, then any temporary labels can not define you, but describe aspects of you. In understanding what behaviors and characteristics are issue driven, and not a part of you, you have a chance to effect real change. When you can identify the symptoms to be ignored, or signs of a process commencing that is pathology driven, you can dig deep underneath, getting into the deepest roots of an issue.
You are not a label, but a label may also be an applicable and appropriate tool for a time. Rather than pushing against a diagnosis, embrace it in the same way medicine embraces a diagnosis. It is a tool offering vast associated trial and error experience, and offers any resulting tried and tested measures that have been shown to work. Without catering to the over-diagnosis issues of the current industrialized worlds, identification of base conditions offer a far shorter path to effective treatment.
In summary: Mental illness, like physical illness, requires accurate diagnosis to best design and customize treatment plans. The stigma of a diagnosis, and the personal identification of a diagnosis tend to prevent many people seeking accurate assessment. With an accurate diagnosis, a treatment plan can be set up based on common experiences and results in many others with the same or similar conditions active. The important thing is to not identify as a diagnosis, but as a person with a diagnosis. All treatment is about getting back to the authentic person, without the diagnosis.