Mental Illness, and the Importance of Mental Illness Diagnosis

What is mental illness?

Before explaining mental illness diagnosis, it’s important to explain what mental illness is, first.

Mental illness refers to a classification of health problems that affect the way people think, feel and behave. Examples of mental illness include depression, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, anxiety and schizophrenia. Anxiety and depression are the most common diseases, in Australia. Severe mental illness can cripple a person’s ability to perform normal functions like going to work and enjoying hobbies.

For example, people suffering from anxiety cannot leave their homes in many instances due to heightened fears. While patients suffer a great deal from their illness, they are by no means the only ones who have to deal with the painful impact. Friends and family often feel the negative repercussions of mental ill-health too.

It is important to know the difference between mental health and mental health problems. Mental health problems also affect a person’s capacity to think and feel but the mental illness diagnosis may not be as severe. Mental health problems are also more common compared to mental illness because they are a reaction to a temporary moment in a person’s life, like stress. However, if left untreated it can become a mental illness, which is more severe and lasts longer.

Therefore, it’s important to seek treatment for mental health issues before they become bigger problems. However, not everyone can identify what they are suffering from because the symptoms for different conditions are similar. For example, bipolar disorder and depression have similar symptoms. Therefore, you need to visit a mental health care professional who will give you a mental health diagnosis.

The importance of mental illness diagnosis

Mental health diagnosis is when a medical professional (often a psychologist) identifies your mental illness. A mental illness diagnosis is important because it determines your treatment method, medication and treatment duration. Every mental health condition has its own treatment method. For example, an anxiety disorder is very different from PTSD. If the wrong treatment method is implemented, then you can be ‘treated’ for months without seeing any progress.

Getting the mental illness diagnosis right is a challenging process. Mental health practitioners must be cognizant of the fact that symptoms and cause are not always connected. For example, someone showing symptoms of depression may not be suffering from depression, but have ADHD and are struggling to get work done on time. Likewise, patients suffering from anxiety may be due to a traumatising event (PTSD), as opposed to anxiety disorder.

Fortunately, exceptionally experienced mental health workers have the right skillset and methods for performing an accurate diagnosis ranging from computer assessment to pen and paper questions.

What happens if a mental illness diagnosis is not done?

Mental illness is stigmatised by the media and politicians, and for that reason, many people avoid treatment. However, avoiding a mental illness diagnosis will not make the problem go away, it will only make the situation worse, by causing other problems like chronic pain, homelessness and even suicide.

Physical Ill-health

When mental health issues worsen, the body will suffer. Problems in the mind cause the body to tense, which leads to muscle cramps, which could lead to gastrointestinal distress. If you are already dealing with prevailing sickness, then mental ill health will make you neglect treatment. For example, those suffering from depression are less likely to take treatment for their diabetes. Furthermore, mental ill health often leads to chronic stress, which brings forth other problems like heart attacks, obesity and premature death.


Mental health also leads to social and economic problems. When you suffer from a severe mental illness like depression it becomes very difficult to perform routine tasks like getting out of bed and going to work, which makes it difficult to hold down a job, hindering your ability to perform simple roles like paying rent, ultimately leading to homelessness.

Suicidal thoughts

If mental illness is left untreated, it can encourage suicidal thoughts. Severe mental illness can cloud your judgement and rob you of the ability to think rationally. You will feel there is no hope and that there is no way you can get out of the situation alive, forcing you to consider permanent options, no matter how unpleasant they might be. Most incidents of suicide are connected to severe, neglected mental illness.

Key takeaways

Mental illness is a condition that negatively affects the way people think, feel and behave. If left untreated, it causes several problems like trauma, homelessness and even suicide. However, to treat mental illness, it must be diagnosed accurately. A mental health diagnosis is crucial because it determines the type and duration of treatment, but it is quite complicated given that causes and symptoms are not always connected. Mental health workers have different methods for diagnosing problems like interviews and computer tests.

To learn more about mental health and mental health services, visit onPsych.

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