How Is Mental Illness Diagnosed?

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How Is Mental Illness Diagnosed?

how is mental illness diagnosed

Mental illness is diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker.

First, what is a mental illness?

Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior that causes the person distress and difficulty functioning. There are more than 200 classified types of mental illness. Mental illness are conditions including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia.  

Diagnosing mental illness

Many people believe that mental illness is rare.

However, mental illnesses are quite common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, and mental illness is among the most common causes of disability. About half of all people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime. Mental illnesses can be occasional or long-lasting and chronic, negatively affecting the person’s ability to function optimally on a day-to-day basis.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24.

How is mental illness diagnosed?

It is important to note that the process of diagnosing a mental illness can be complex and may require multiple visits to your provider.

It is also important to remember that mental illness is not a personal weakness or something that a person can simply “snap out of.” With proper treatment and support, individuals with mental illness can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. The process may vary slightly, but the general path to diagnosing mental illness include the following steps:

Confidential Evaluation

Your provider conduct a thorough evaluation to assess your symptoms, medical history, and overall functioning. This may involve a physical examination, laboratory tests, and a mental health assessment. Unlike some diseases, there is no blood test, culture, or x-ray that can help determine whether a person has a mental illness. Mental health professionals diagnose mental illness based on the symptoms that a person has.

A provider will ask about symptoms, how long the symptoms have persisted, the severity of the symptoms, and how your life is affected by these symptoms.

Diagnostic Criteria

Mental illnesses are typically diagnosed using specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). The DSM-5 is a widely-used manual that provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

Differential Diagnosis

Your provider will consider other possible explanations for your symptoms and rule them out before making a diagnosis.


Based on your evaluation and diagnostic criteria, your provider will make a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.


Most mental illnesses cannot be cured, but they can usually be treated to minimize symptoms and maximize the person’s functioning and quality of life. Treatment typically involves medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or both.

Our Experienced Team of Psychiatrists Can Help!

We know that taking the first step can be difficult.

Our highly-trained psychiatrists and therapists offer a comprehensive and confidential approach to private, outpatient psychiatric care. Whether this is your first time seeking psychiatric care or if you are seeking a new provider, Novum Psychiatry can help. In-person and telehealth appointments available. We accept health insurance.

What Is The Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Health?

Mental health and physical health are closely linked because mental health plays a major role in our ability to maintain good physical health. Conditions such as depression and anxiety increase the risk for physical health problems. Conversely, people with chronic illness and poor physical health have a higher risk for depression and anxiety.

Physical symptoms such as aches and pains, headaches, cramps, sleep issues, fatigue, and digestive problems can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and chronic illnesses. However, they can also be symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

A physician likely will conduct a physical exam and consult the patient’s history to rule out other health problems that can be traced to the mental health symptoms.

Know that problems with physical health and chronic disease can decrease a person’s ability to seek help for mental health conditions. Do not dismiss depression as a normal part of chronic illness. Effective treatment for mental disorders is available, even if the person has another medical condition.

Warning Signs Of Mental Illness

Each mental illness has characteristic symptoms, however there are some general warning signs that someone needs professional help.

  • Inability to cope with problems
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Prolonged depression and apathy
  • Excessive anger and irritability
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating or learning
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Not interested in people, hobbies, and activities that they used to be interested in
  • Low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sex drive

Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should seek professional help from a qualified psychiatrist.

Contact Novum Psychiatry

We can help evaluate, diagnose, and treat most mental health conditions. Where we feel your situation lies outside of our expertise, we’ll give you a referral to a suitable specialist.

Contact our office today for a confidential evaluation.