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How Do I Know If I Have A Mental Disorder?

Published: September 12, 2009
Dear TeenHealthFX,
How do I know if I have a mental disorder or not? I go away to school during the year and live by myself while at school. Sometimes I have "panic" attacks where I will cry,think about suicide, how lonely I am and then I will trash my room. It will happen randomly, after a fight with a boyfriend, during finals week,etc. Just recently, I have had three panic attacks in the last five days over little things like a sandwich, or being alone, or being uncomfortable in my room. I would cry, and get very suicidal. I panicked and got really angry and upset and trashed my room. Then I would try and call my friends or my boyfriend and when no one picked up, I would panick and get even more upset and depressed that no one was there for me. I go to a school where I have no friends and feel lonely. My friend thinks that it might be PMDD or that I might be and I dont want to tell my parents. Please help me because I have no other options and dont know what to do.
Signed: How Do I Know If I Have A Mental Disorder?

Dear How Do I Know If I Have A Mental Disorder?,

 

The best way a person can confirm if he/she has some kind of mental illness is to meet with a mental health professional for a consultation. If you are experiencing panic attacks, it is possible that you are dealing with some kind of anxiety disorder. If you cry frequently, feel suicidal at times, often feel lonely, and go through intense anger outbursts, it is possible that you are dealing with some kind of mood disorder. But the only way to find out if you are dealing with a mental illness and to get an accurate diagnosis is, again, to meet with a mental health professional. A psychiatrist, social worker, or psychologist can evaluate the signs and symptoms you have described here, along with your medical history, emotional health history, family history and various other factors in order to determine if you are dealing with a mental health issue. In addition to formulating an accurate diagnosis, a mental health professional with also work with your to develop an effective treatment plan based on that diagnosis.

Think about it this way – if you were experiencing extreme stomach pain and were frequently constipated, these symptoms would indicate that a visit to a primary care physician or gastroenterologist was in order. Once the doctor completed a physical exam and ran any necessary tests, then an accurate medical diagnosis could be made and treatment based on that diagnosis would be recommended. It is essentially the same process with mental health.

Based on some of the symptoms you are describing – panic attacks, significant mood changes, suicidal thoughts, FX does think that it is very important for you to talk to your parents/guardians about how you have been feeling and meet with a mental health professional as soon as possible for a consultation. FX can appreciate that it can feel difficult at times for children and teens to open up to their parents about any difficulties they might be going through. However, if you are dealing with some kind of anxiety disorder and/or a mood disorder, it is critical that you receive the treatment you need and that you and your parents receive education about what you are dealing with and what you will need to feel better. If you are having trouble going directly to your parents to speak about this, consider writing them a letter about what is going on or showing them this question/answer, or enlist the help of an extended family member, school counselor, teacher, or any other trusted adult who can speak to your parents on your behalf. FX would also like to say that they fact that you feel so hesitant to speak to your parents about this might be part of the problem here. It is very difficult for children and teens who do not feel that there is a safety and comfort in being able to turn to their parents for help and support with difficult situations. So at some point it might be helpful for you to discuss this issue with your parents, either on your own or with the help of a family therapist.

As for chalking up what you have been going through to PMDD, it is very common for people to turn to hormonal issues or the idea of “typical teenage moodiness” to account for the kinds of symptoms you are describing. While hormonal changes can attribute to various moods and behaviors, and adolescence can be a time with its own special set of moods and behaviors, it is important not to automatically assume hormones or being a teenager is the main causal factor, but to allow mental health and medical professionals to rule out such things. 

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

Signed: TeenHealthFX

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