During the summer of 2020, I started the process of getting a diagnosis for my mental health issues. I’ve struggled with my mental health since my early teens and while I had seen counsellors and therapists at different times over the years, for many reasons I was either too scared or unable to reach out for a diagnosis. Reaching out for help is tough enough and with the stigmas around mental health, particularly concerning being diagnosed with a mental health disorder and what that can mean about you, looking to get a diagnosis can feel even tougher. However, for me and so many others, finally being able to give a name to all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and having access to finding the specific therapies and coping techniques to support you is so amazingly helpful.
For most people, the process of receiving a diagnosis is pretty similar to going to the doctor for any physical illness; you approach either your GP or a local mental health service for an appointment and they ask you some questions to get an initial idea of your symptoms. For me, I used the online NHS self-referral page to find the services available to me to talk to, and then the assessments were done through a combination of phone conversations, questionnaires, and then weekly symptom tracking for my initial therapy appointments each week.
Knowing there is a name for what you’re experiencing is so comforting. You know then that it’s not just you dealing with what you’re going through and a lot of disorders that can be portrayed as rare or frightening are actually more common than you’d think. For example, bipolar disorder, the condition I was diagnosed with, has also been diagnosed in roughly 1.3 million other people in the UK according to Bipolar UK. That’s 1 in 50 people. Equally, 1 in 6 people aged between 16 to 24 have experienced symptoms of common mental disorders such as depression or an anxiety disorder, says YoungMinds. Charities like these as well as the many others we have in the UK, like Samaritans, MIND and CALM, as well as all of those disorder-specific charities working to support those with certain disorders, are all invaluable resources. They are available to everyone, whether you’ve just received a diagnosis and you want to find out a little more about your disorder, or you’re just starting to look into diagnosis.
Given that we are still under COVID-19 restrictions, most mental health services have now gone online or over the phone. While this might seem a little strange, it can actually make accessing what you need for a diagnosis easier. It means that you don’t have to worry about travelling to your assessments and appointments or the nerves that come from being face-to-face with someone to talk about your mental health. For me, I had a handful of over-the-phone assessments with different mental health nurses and therapists. The first round of therapy I had was run in an online chat box style, almost like I was just texting my therapist. This was great and super easy to get comfortable with, particularly when I was in a depressed or in a really low-energy place. Still being able to access all of this without needing to worry about getting ready and travelling was so helpful.
While at university, dealing with your mental health can feel a little overwhelming, and keeping up with the process of diagnosis and being referred can feel confusing or (like me) you might worry that it will cause you extra stress. But there is so much support out there available to you if you know where to look. The Uni Wellbeing Centre can support and guide you through your path to getting a diagnosis, as well as the mental health professionals who work with you. They always give you as much information as they can; I was sent a handful of links to local support as well as posted loads of printed resources to keep and look back at when I needed them. As long as you make sure you have all the contact information you need for anyone working with you and make sure to make all your appointments or sessions, those around you will make sure the process is as simple and helpful as it can be for you.
To help you get started if you think it may be helpful, I’ve linked the NHS and YoungMinds help pages below, as well as the Student Wellbeing Centre. These are all great places to start looking if you want to ask for a mental health diagnosis or if you’ve recently been diagnosed and want some support or peace of mind with navigating this part of your mental health