What’s in a name?


Generalised anxiety disorder


Bipolar II disorder

Borderline personality disorder

Sub-threshold ‘impulse control issues’

Binge eating disorder

Eating disorder not otherwise specified

This the list of diagnoses I have received in the ten years that mental illness has been a feature of my life. It’s stupidly long.

I have symptoms, sometimes but not always:

  • low mood, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • anxiety and panic
  • disrupted sleep
  • impulse control issues, especially around food
  • heightened mood, excitement and throwing myself into new things without thinking them through
  • low self-esteem and anxiety about relationships (in the broad sense, not just romance).

Every health professional I see gives me a new label. The labels open up treatment doors. We have a system build around medical practitioners who look strongly to the DSM-5 for guidance to work out what badge to give me and what silo to treat me in.

But my experience, and that of countless others, suggests that these labels aren’t always effective. My list alone suggests that it’s very hard for practitioners to agree on how to diagnose the complexity within someone’s mind.

Further, a diagnosis doesn’t even guarantee that the treatment door that’s opened is one that’s going to work. Diagnosis is like a giant, never-ending game of snakes and ladders. Got a diagnosis? Ascend the ladder to treatment! Treatment didn’t work? Better watch out for that snake taking you back to the start.

Every reassessment adds more time into an already protracted system that builds walls between a person seeking help, and the help they need.

As a result, I find myself in an awkward position of being a mental health advocate who’s actually unsure what mental illness she has.

On one hand, I don’t see that as a problem. To me, my diagnosis is an inability to regulate my emotions – sadness, happiness, fear, excitement, love, grief. I look for therapeutic options that recognise I am a holistic person and treat me accordingly.

But fundamentally, in the system we have set up, lacking a concrete diagnosis is a problem, especially when my undiagnosis sits in the realm of emotional disorders. When the question we ask to access treatment is ‘What’s wrong with you?’, it’s really hard when the answer is ‘I’m not sure’.

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