You trip and fall, your arm is bleeding, and there’s a bone sticking through the skin leaving you in excruciating pain. You don’t need to be a doctor to tell you that your arm is broken. Physical diseases and pains generally have obvious symptoms. There’s a broken bone, a bump, a specific action or symptom that is immediately obvious to a trained professional. There’s no debate “if” the bone is broken because it’s clear physically and at times, on an x-ray. If only mental health diagnosis were so easy, just like that.
The problem with diagnosing brain troubles is that much of it is subjective. While you may feel broken, you can’t illustrate or communicate that to fit with the exact list of known symptoms. Apart from suicide and suicidal thoughts, it’s often difficult to diagnose mental issues because they’re more abstract.
Unlike the broken arm, simply feeling “off” as a symptom could mean many things. While you personally know that something isn’t right, it’s much harder for your practitioner to know what that means. With so many cases of malpractice and misdiagnosis, it’s no wonder that the health professionals can be tentative in making their diagnoses, rather than certain when faced with facts that are subjective and often unique to the patient’s own situation.
One of the biggest reasons that mental health issues are only now being pushed, is that we have reached a level of healthcare where disease and physical health are primarily cared for. Back in the 19th Century, the priority of medicine was simply keeping people alive and “feeling off” wasn’t as likely to kill you as cholera, typhoid, or a simple infection. Even now, there are diseases we can’t cure. But, on an everyday level, the Western population can survive to a reasonable age thanks to modern medicine allowing researchers to tackle problems that until now have been less pressing.
Public interest has also increased. Television shows and a culture that reveres stories of overcoming their personal struggle, has led to many people being much more vocal about their experiences. Shows like 13 Reasons have exploded the interest in mental health issues and the Project Semicolon have brought the need for treatments into the limelight. Where before, mental health was considered an embarrassment to be left in a dark corner, people are now being celebrated for their struggle.
Science is still working to understand the brain and the body. The brain itself is simply a fatty mass, full of neurons. There’s no obvious box for memories, and while we can now tell that certain glands produce chemicals which affect mood, it’s only recently that science has reached this capability. Less than 100 years ago, antibiotics didn’t even exist. We didn’t know about bacteria and understanding how grey matter actually worked seemed science fiction. We are living in an era where it’s not fiction anymore and research is something that is not just trial and error, but simply takes time. Simply put, science is still working on it.
What Does this Mean?
Whether you’ve had an official diagnosis or you’re still struggling to figure out if it’s “just you”, no one has the right to tell you that you feel a certain way. It’s very hard to self-diagnose, and simply using the internet can give you paranoia. Risking your life (untreated mental health kills) because of outdated stigma, or a worry that there is no treatment, yet perfect for your unique need is hubris. Instead, choosing a certified therapist who can correctly diagnose your needs may set your mind at ease and enable you to a normal life.