In clinical psychology there is a manual called the DSM-IV. This manual provides psychologists with information related to every recognized and agreed upon disorder. This manual has gone through five revisions in its history, and revisions have expanded, collapsed, or abandoned disorders for many reasons. Because disorders are culturally bound (what constitutes a disorder in one place may not be abnormal or problematic in another), the DSM-IV discusses disorders generally recognized in Western countries.
If a person goes to see a psychologist, they are communicating that the symptoms they are experiencing are maladaptive and distressing and that they need help correcting it. If a person does not believe anything is wrong, they are unlikely to seek behavioral health help. Therefore, only people who go to see a psychologist can be officially diagnosed with a disorder. This is not to say that only people who go to see a psychologist can receive help. In fact, there are many alternatives to visiting a psychologist depending on the presence and severity of symptoms. Options range from self-help books, to changes in diet and exercise, yoga and meditation, substance abuse treatment, and many other things. For some people, a psychologist can be their most beneficial option.
Though, if a person sees a psychologist and an assessment is conducted, they can leave with a formal diagnosis if they meet the requirements. For the most part, a diagnosis is helpful for insurance purposes. Some insurance companies will not cover specific treatment options if a person does not have a diagnosis that shows that the treatment is required. For others, a diagnosis is helpful for disability reasons. Some organizations, such as educational systems, allow students to use disability resource centers if they can prove that they have a condition that warrants the resources.
All in all, a diagnosis is a series of symptoms that have been said to be occurring over a certain amount of time. For many diagnoses, the symptoms and therefore the disorder can be reduced and eliminated. For some diagnoses, the symptoms can only be minimized. Regardless, disorders are just a method of categorization for symptoms and symptoms are just your bodies way of telling you that something isn’t right.
Similar to health, mental health is susceptible to “sickness”. Every person, place, and thing we encounter has the potential to impact our mental health. If we watch our diet, exercise, sleep, and interpersonal relationships, and we reduce stress, we are likely to minimize the impact of trauma on our well-being. If we find that we are struggling to cope and we realize that we need help, this is okay. It is important to recognize that just like physical health, mental health can recover.