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A mental health diagnosis can only be arrived at through evaluation by a mental health professional. For people who are just starting to seek treatment for suspected mental health issues, or who are undergoing emergency evaluation and treatment for a breakthrough event, it can be helpful to know what to expect during the mental health evaluation process. Understanding what is going to happen and why can be especially beneficial for people who may feel confused, unable to control their surroundings, or frightened.
Arriving at a mental health diagnosis is not always easy. Unlike problems with physical health, mental health can not be as easily evaluated with tests. Although there is some testing which can help, especially testing to rule out physical causes for suspected psychological issues, the only way to find out what is going on inside someone's mind is to meet for an evaluation, and possibly several.
A psychiatrist or similar mental health professional can use a variety of techniques in an evaluation of a patient. Commonly, the doctor talks directly with the patient to gather information which can be helpful for a mental health diagnosis. The patient may be asked to complete various tasks which can provide information about cognitive function, to talk about what brought her or him into the office, and to discuss general medical history, as this can sometimes provide important information. Family members, friends, and other health care providers may be asked about symptoms and signs experienced by the patient.
It is also common to ask if there is a family history of mental health problems. There are genetic links with some mental health issues, and being aware of a patient's family history can be useful for a doctor who is trying to arrive at a mental health diagnosis. Even with all of this information in hand, the doctor may have trouble finding a diagnosis, especially if the patient is experiencing multiple mental health issues which confuse or cloud each other with a constellation of symptoms.
Getting a diagnosis can be important. Many treatment options will only be considered with a firm diagnosis, and patients who want benefits such as insurance coverage for their treatment usually need to provide evidence of their diagnosis. Many patients also find it helpful to have a diagnosis on a personal level, because they understand what is going on and why they experience the issues that they do. If a mental health diagnosis is inconclusive, a doctor can still recommend some treatment options, and suggest periodic follow-up evaluations to see if new information can be uncovered which could lead to a diagnosis.