Let's talk: When is a mental health diagnosis a "good thing"?


As a Psychologist, I support people to build healthy and effective mindsets, skillsets and toolsets. This usually involves reframing how people see both themselves and other people, as well as guiding people on how to build on what's strong and better respond to and manage what's wrong.


This post is dedicated to how we "think" or "see things" when it comes to mental health diagnoses.


So what is a diagnosis anyhow?

A diagnosis summarises and describes a combination of:

  1. signs – what is visible to an observer, e.g. sweating, agitation, weight loss, and

  2. symptoms – what the person describes they are experiencing, e.g. sadness, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in activities.

To meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, a qualified mental health professional assesses the intensity, frequency and impact of a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviour (including activities).


Can a diagnosis be a "bad thing"?

A diagnosis is not a "bad thing". This issue is what happens next and how people use that diagnosis.


A diagnosis is not helpful when:

  • it leads to the person with that diagnosis experiencing harsh criticism, bullying, social and occupational exclusion, and ultimately stigma, guilt and shame.

  • it begins to define that person's identity – the "label" is limiting, not liberating; isolating, not uniting; or worse, the "label" is used to discriminate, rather than to promote understanding and an effective response.

Can a diagnosis be a "good thing"?

A diagnosis doesn't need to keep the person stuck in what's wrong, rather it can help them to move forward effectively (i.e. they know what they can do about it)!


A diagnosis is helpful when:

  • it explains, increases understanding, and guides the best intervention approach so that the person can meet their needs and live a meaningful life,

  • it's reassuring to the person because it helps them connect in with others who are learning skills and using tools to manage their struggles and live their life better, and

  • it's reassuring to the person's support network so that they too can be supported to use strategies that promote understanding and care for the person.

Is a diagnosis necessary?

On one hand, without a diagnosis, a person may not get the supports and treatment they need. On the other hand, if a person does not meet criteria for a diagnosis, then they also may not get the supports and treatment they need.


So what's the take-home message?

A diagnosis does not define a person. A diagnosis is not an invitation to discriminate. A diagnosis is a starting point. A diagnosis informs the most effective way forward.


A person certainly doesn't need a "label" to manage the impact of struggles in their life and to identify and build on their strengths! People can learn to manage themselves in a helpful and meaningful way regardless of whether or not they meet criteria for a diagnosis.


Connectfully offers workshops and collaborative consulting to organisations, allied health professionals, and educators. Please connect if you are interested in supporting your teams, employees or clients to develop a strengths-based mindset and skills to navigate challenges.


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