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Diagnosis: Harmful, or Beneficial?

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain!I was at a Halloween party last week, mingling with the women faction.

A mother was discussing her suspicion that her teenage son has autism spectrum disorder.

“My relative, who is a school counselor, told me to avoid a diagnosis.”

The school counselor’s opinion is simple—if he is not diagnosed, he will not be limited in life.

It really got me thinking.

How true is that statement?

There are, generally speaking, two camps—one that believes a diagnosis will drive treatment and overall wellness, and another that believes that a diagnosis hinders opportunity.

Bipolar Disorder and Diagnosis

In terms of bipolar disorder, I am convinced that diagnosis is essential.

I have heard the same story repeatedly from older adults in support group: All of them wish they would have known about their illness as early as possible.

Before diagnosis, many of these adults experienced hardship that might not have occurred if a doctor diagnosed them earlier: Jail time, ruined relationships, suicide attempts, and drug and alcohol abuse are some of the things they wish they could have skipped.

They say I am lucky that I received a diagnosis at 19.

I agree.

It has not been easy; there are definite cons to labels.

Nevertheless, how can you get help if the issue is undefined? How will you know what to do? How will you know what is wrong?

A tree still makes noise if it falls in an empty forest.

Do we still have the disorder, even if we don’t attach a label to it?

Some Differences

Naturally, conditions like autism spectrum disorder differ from mental disorders.

In terms of bipolar disorder, without a diagnosis, proper medical treatment via psychotropic medications is virtually impossible.

Autism relies on primarily on behavioral, social, and therapeutic interventions.

It seems that this boy is living without a diagnosis or extra help, and it is possible for someone with bipolar disorder to do the same.

It all comes down to weighing the pros and cons of having a label.

What do they think this diagnosis will do to him? 

I know this young man. He has good grades in school, plays sports, and has friends.

He is not so different.

However, I wonder if his family and friends are downplaying his issues, and whether these reasons are for him or themselves.

Young Man with a Future

This young man will soon find out where he will go to college.

There is a university in town he would love to attend. He also applied to a school 600 miles away.

My quick and limited observation is he is a poor and anxious communicator, even with trusted family members.

His parents must remind him to engage in personal hygiene.

Again, he does not have a diagnosis. However, obviously there is a question of whether he may need one.

That leads me to believe there is evidence he needs assistance.

I am not so close to him that I know what he is capable of far away from home.

Or in life.

As someone with lifelong special needs, though, I wonder if he will feel comfortable in a dorm far away, if he visibly and repeatedly struggles with everyday tasks.

How will he receive assistance, personally or academically, at a university where no one knows him?

Will the school find a way to assist and accommodate him if necessary?

I worry.

I did not need special accommodations in college; not academically, anyway.

However, I could have never lived far away from home as a young, irresponsible, naive person along with a disorder that affects me daily.

I wonder—what will the future hold?

Will he succeed by being free of a label? Will it help him to see if he has autism spectrum disorder?

My Thoughts

I have a lot of compassion for this young man, as someone who tries to navigate the world in a different way than the status quo.

I really don’t know what the answer is.

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder seems to have more pros than cons, although many will disagree with me.

With autism spectrum disorder, I am not so experienced.

All of this comes from my concern for children that may benefit from treatment or assistance.

Perhaps a diagnosis does not matter much when a child is just a child; protected, watched, and cared for.

However, what about when that child grows up and starts to navigate the world alone?

What do you think about diagnosis? Do you think that having a name for a condition is helpful? Does it hurt? Is there a difference between having a diagnosis for a mental health condition and autism spectrum disorder? Is one more essential than the other is? 


Photo Credit:  Sally Crossthwaite via Compfight

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Diagnosis: Harmful, or Beneficial?

Kat Dawkins

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APA Reference
Dawkins, K. (2013). Diagnosis: Harmful, or Beneficial?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Oct 2013
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