Your Diagnosis Doesn’t Define You
Throughout history, mental illness has been seen as taboo or controversial and has been met with many stereotypes that still exist regarding seeking treatment. No matter how you might feel about the topic of mental illness, according to studies, it still affects one in five adults in America. So, what if people embraced treatment and thought of their diagnosis as a way to learn more about themselves and to educate others about mental illness?
While society has progressed the conversations about mental well-being further, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still many people who hold assumptions and perpetuate them. “Many people internalize messages thrown around about mental illness because of terms used such as crazy, weak, sensitive, or broken to describe it, and it makes people feel helpless, overwhelmed and confused when they receive a diagnosis,” says Emily Brault, Adult and Family Services Team Lead at Centerstone. Although the idea of talking to a therapist or taking medication might create more anxiety and stress for some, you must remember that asking for help is a brave and strong thing to do.
Some of the benefits of finding mental health treatment are understanding your diagnosis, learning new coping strategies, and providing you with a safe space to be seen, heard, and validated in your experiences. Asking for help might feel like a challenge, so here are some alternative ways to approach seeking treatment:
- Educate yourself. “Most people misuse mental health terminology, which can further reinforce the stigma surrounding mental illness and what it means to get diagnosed,” says Brault. For example, instead of saying, “traumatized” or “mentally ill person,” use “an individual living with trauma/mental illness.” This reframes the potentially harmful language by putting the person first rather than using their diagnosis to define or characterize them.
- Seek support. Support will look different for every person—the goal is finding what works best for you! Some examples could be through support groups, individual therapy, family and friends, or alternative methods like art or music therapy. Know that you are in control of your treatment, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
- Avoid self-diagnosing. “A lot of the time, people might feel that searching for an answer will ease their anxiety, but it can often lead to more questions and uncertainty,” says Brault. Researching your symptoms online to look for a diagnosis can lead to frustration and possibly increase the shame you feel about your mental health experiences. It is recommended that you speak with a mental health professional to be accurately diagnosed so you can create a treatment plan that best benefits you.
- Normalize your experience. Talk about your mental health experience with others to spread awareness and normalize the conversation. Use your personal story in a way that makes you feel empowered. People often underestimate the power of their own voice, which is a primary resource in being your agent of change. The more you can encourage conversations around mental health and experiences with trauma or addiction, the more that others will understand and feel empowered in their own journey.
Remember that receiving a diagnosis does not define you—instead, use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.