How Are Mental Illnesses Diagnosed?

Diagnosing an individual with a mental illness isn’t an easy task. Psychiatrists have to go through several steps, making sure to rule out other possible causes, before putting a label on someone’s mental health condition. Getting an accurate diagnosis can take weeks, months, or even years. It’s a process that can include some degree of trial-and-error. Since there’s no test or definitive way to tell if someone has a mental disorder, psychiatrists have to work extra hard to find the right diagnosis.

Diagnosis Steps

  1. Initial Evaluation

Doctors will begin by evaluating a patient. They’ll discuss symptoms the individual is having as well as their medical history. If there are any instances of mental illness in the family it should be disclosed to doctors. Doctors will first make sure that there is no physical illness that could be causing the symptoms. They may run some tests to rule these out.

  1. Referral

If a person’s symptoms match that of a mental disorder, and there are no other signs of a physical disorder, a doctor will refer patients to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional. While a normal medical doctor may be able to hypothesis what disorder a patient has, the official diagnosis would come from a mental health professional.

  1. Psychological Evaluation

Psychiatrists and psychologists used a specifically designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate an individual for mental illness. They’ll look at the reported symptoms, including any and all social or functional problems that have been caused by the symptoms. They’ll also make their own observations of the patient’s attitudes and behavior.

  1. Diagnosis

After listening to the patient and making notes, the psychiatrist or psychologist will then begin looking at what diagnosis fit. Sometimes the symptoms can point directly to one mental illness but since many mental illnesses have similar symptoms, it usually can take awhile. The standard manual used by professionals to diagnose mental illnesses recognized in the US is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM), which is made by the American Psychiatrist Association.

  1. Treatment

After a patient receives a diagnosis, doctors will begin discussing treatment options and plans. People are more than welcome to seek out second opinions if they do not agree with their diagnosis. For most mental illnesses, psychiatrists recommend a combination of medications and therapy. What medications and what forms of therapy depend on the individual, the diagnosis, and the doctor. 

In the past, when mental illness had such a negative stigma, a diagnosis was viewed as the end. In reality, receiving a diagnosis is the beginning. Once an individual knows what is going on with them they can begin treating it. They can begin to get back to their normal self.

If you believe that you may be suffering from a mental illness, or that someone you love is, contact us to set up an appointment. We are more than happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.

Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez

Dr. Raul Rodriguez


Existing patients, please text 561-409-7296 for follow-up appointment requests or if you have medication concerns please text 561-409-7296.