You feel like something is wrong, but you’re not sure what exactly. Not knowing what’s going on may make it harder for you to figure out what kind of help to ask for. You’re not alone! Figuring out which kind of mental health problem you have can be confusing, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.
The label a mental health professional uses to talk about a specific mental illness is called a diagnosis. An example of a diagnosis might be “generalized anxiety disorder,” or “bipolar disorder II.” There are a lot of different types of mental illness—they go way beyond just “depression.” Diagnoses are required if you use your insurance to pay for treatment. But you don’t have to have a diagnosis in order to seek help.
The most important thing is just recognizing that you are going through something and that you could use some help. If you’re pretty sure you’re experiencing a mental illness, but you’re not sure which one, where do you start?
So how do I find out what I have?
Sometimes people are able to get a pretty good sense of what condition they might have just from reading about it online and talking to other people who have had similar experiences. But it’s also easy to get carried away. Listening about experiences on TikTok, you might leave feeling like you have every mental illness, but that is unlikely.
Doctors have separated mental health conditions to fit into several categories. Even though it’s not a perfect system, it’s somewhere to start.
- Problems that start earlier than puberty and related to communication, social relationships, or impulsivity include autism and ADHD and are called neurodevelopmental disorders.
- If you feel sadness, difficulty with pleasure, or extreme sadness and energy – you might have a mood challenge like depression or bipolar.
- If you have a lot of fear, panic, or experienced a trauma – you might have an anxiety problem.
- If you experience voices, visions, or thoughts that others don’t see, hear, or think – you might be experiencing psychosis.
- Changes associated with drinking or drug use are treated as addiction or substance use disorders.
A good starting point is to take a mental health test online. The mental health tests on our site are the same screening tools used in a lot of doctors’ offices. They’re scientifically validated—much more accurate than just reading about mental health and making a guess. You can use your results to start a conversation with your friends or family, or use them to monitor your progress over time.
A diagnosis and treatment
Eventually, if you want to be officially diagnosed with a mental illness, you’ll need to meet with a doctor or a therapist. They’ll ask you some questions and use their training and experience to determine whether your symptoms match a particular mental illness. If you can, try to meet with someone who specializes in mental health, like a psychiatrist or a therapist. But your regular family doctor can diagnose common conditions like depression and anxiety. They can also help refer you to a specialist.
Diagnoses can take time to really figure out. If you’ve been diagnosed with something and you don’t think it’s accurate, it’s okay to talk to your provider about clarifying or exploring new diagnoses. If you don’t feel like your provider is listening, it’s okay to get a second opinion. And always remember: a diagnosis doesn’t define you—it’s just a way of connecting you with the help you need.