Getting diagnosed with a mental illness can be disorienting, frightening, and difficult to cope with. On the one hand, you may be relieved to have a better understanding of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve been feeling, on the other hand, you may be afraid of the stigma against people with mental illnesses and may have some internalized stigmas yourself.
The challenges of dealing with a mental illness can get even more complicated when you’re given more than one diagnosis, or when a care provider adds a new diagnosis to your original one.
A lot of people find themselves wondering if you can even have more than one diagnosis at once.
If you’re confused, frightened, or worried about yourself or a loved one having more than one mental illness, you’re in the right place. We’ll start by explaining mental illness more generally, and then talk about how they are diagnosed, why it may be important to have more than one mental illness diagnosed at once, and what treatment can look like with two (or more) mental illnesses at once.
Remember, you or your loved one aren’t broken. Mental illnesses can be managed, can be treated, and can be overcome.
Understanding the process and your diagnosis is just the first step.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses can be tricky to define, but they are any cluster of symptoms or behavior patterns that impair normal functioning.
That can get tricky for people who have had mental illnesses for a long time, or whose mental illness is distressing to them, but that doesn’t seem to impact their function from the outside.
There are a lot of mental illnesses, some of which are commonly known and understood (or misunderstood) by most people, and many of which are not well known. Mental disorders come in a wide range of different symptoms and triggers, and mental health treatment is tailored to the specific disorder and the person experiencing it.
Remember, you’re not weak for having a mental health disorder. In fact, roughly 50% of all people will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder at some point in their lives, according to the CDC.
Let’s talk a bit about how psychiatric disorders are diagnosed:
How Are Mental Illnesses Diagnosed?
Psychiatric disorders are primarily diagnosed using the DSM-5, which is a manual that lists all of the currently recognized mental disorders, the type of disorder they are, the primary and secondary symptoms of the disorder, and how many symptoms need to be present for diagnosis.
Many psychiatric disorders have similar symptoms, which can lead to diagnosing multiple mental health disorders and can make diagnosis a complicated process that can take a couple of attempts or several providers to get a complete diagnosis.
Symptoms can be tracked through a combination of self-reporting where the person discloses the specific symptoms they are experiencing, questionnaires and screening tools, or through direct observation by trained professionals.
For instance, you may be given a preliminary diagnosis of major depressive disorder based on the information you provide a therapist during your evaluation and a screening quiz they give you, but then have your therapist revise that diagnosis and change it to PTSD, or add a secondary diagnosis of PTSD, after working with you and observing your symptoms and behavior.
Your diagnosis may also change over time, either as you get closer to a true symptom and treatment match, or because of changes in your situation. Certain physical health situations, like a concussion or stroke, may also cause changes in your psychiatric disorder, leading to a change in mental health treatment and diagnosis.
The Importance of a Complete Diagnosis
It can be frustrating, at times, to keep getting new diagnoses or changing diagnoses when you’re trying to get treatment for mental health problems, but the process is important.
Having a complete diagnosis is critical for successful treatment because different mental disorders respond differently to different kinds of treatment and even to specific techniques during treatment.
For instance, CBT, a common and highly effective treatment for some people, may be harmful to other patients with a history of abuse, or the wrong kind of disorder for that treatment.
Getting a complete diagnosis will help your care providers choose the right techniques and mental health treatment plans for you.
Working with an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis can lead to problems, or make treatment more harmful than helpful. So, it’s important to bear with the process and get a diagnosis and treatment plan that makes sense for your needs and situation.
Can You Have Two Mental Illnesses at the Same Time?
Yes! It’s definitely possible to have more than one mental illness at the same time. Some mental illnesses are even more common if you also have another, related diagnosis. For instance, conditions like anxiety disorders and depression or bipolar disorder are commonly experienced simultaneously.
Having two or more diagnoses at the same time is called comorbidity, and comorbidity can be fairly common when it comes to psychiatric disorders.
About 3% of the population has multiple mental health diagnoses at any point in time. And, like most mental health statistics, the rate of multiple diagnoses likely is an undercount since not everyone seeks treatment, and not everyone who seeks treatment receives it.
Can You Get Treatment if You Have Multiple Mental Illnesses?
Treatment is possible with multiple mental illnesses. However, treatment can look very different when you have multiple mental health diagnoses, particularly if any of those psychiatric disorders are more severe than the others.
For instance, people with a major depressive disorder are more likely to experience suicidal ideation or attempts and are also more likely to have or develop psychotic disorders. Suicidal ideation and symptoms of psychotic disorders can both be pressing and urgent issues, which may take priority over other less disruptive symptoms in your treatment plan.
Your care providers may also choose to focus on a particular part of your diagnosis or to provide coping mechanisms specific to certain symptoms or disorders, because some symptoms may interfere with the treatment of other symptoms.
If you’re ever unsure about your treatment plan or what getting a new psychiatric disorder diagnosed means for you, you can talk to your provider about next steps and what you should expect in treatment.
How Do You Find the Best Treatment Options?
Getting good mental health treatment is often a process. It’s not uncommon to try multiple treatment options or providers before finding a good match. You may also need to combine different treatments, including things like talk therapy and medications, to get to the right balance of support and treatment.
Agape offers whole-health treatment approaches for mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders. If you’re considering us as a treatment provider, you should take a look at what we treat and make sure our team has the resources and skills you need.
If Agape Treatment Center looks like a good fit for you, here’s a little more about our mental health programs.
Of course, we think it’s important for you to feel comfortable while getting treatment, and you should know what to expect when you arrive. So why not take a few minutes to look at our gallery and see if our facility looks like a comfortable and safe place to explore your mental health treatment options and address your specific needs.