Three Steps to Getting your Mental Health Professionally Diagnosed in the USA

“And here… is a 600 question test, called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, to evaluate personality disorder and psychopathy,” the assistant said, as she handed me a huge stack of papers. It had been a few years since I had a mental health evaluation and with my mental health worsening, I knew that I should get my diagnosis updated. In my adolescence, I was clinically diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, following an abusive upbringing, but with visions and voices keeping me up at night, I knew there was something more happening.

*NOTE: Everything in this post is purely anecdotal. I am not a licensed professional and this is purely from my own independent experiences.*

If you’re ready to get a diagnosis, I know it can be scary. It feels like a death sentence. A label. It’s admitting that you might be crazy or that you’re not normal. I assure you, those feelings are daunting now, but they do pass. Getting a diagnosis is like setting a foundation to recovery. It’s the first step that you can take.

Over the internet, there’s lots of “mental health quizzes” and “online mental health evaluations” but they’re probably not accurate. These online mental health quiz websites overly simplifies the process of getting diagnosed. I wouldn’t recommend trusting one of these resources as a complete diagnosis for yourself.

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1. Go to your primary care provider (doctor) and ask for a referral to get a mental health evaluation

You could look up your own local psychologists, but if you have a decent relationship with your primary care provider, ask them for a referral. Often, doctors refer to the same few people, because they have a trusted rapport with each other.

It also takes away the stress of having to find someone on your own.

2. Set up the mental health evaluation appointment.

Now that you have the referral, you’re going to have to pick up the phone and make that appointment for the personality disorder test. Tell the assistant that you were referred by your doctor and would like to set up an appointment for a mental health evaluation. The assistant should help you out from there.

3. Getting your mental health evaluated and diagnosed.

The day that you begin your mental health evaluation can be stressful. Make a plan to go to somewhere peaceful (like a local tea shop for your favorite tea) or to have a friend help you decompress, after the mental health evaluation.

  • First, you’ll likely be called in to do a verbal interview. A psychologist asks you a series of questions and will take notes as you’re talking.

  • Then you’ll take some written tests, either the same day or at your next appointment. When I went, I was given a test for depression, anxiety, and personality disorder (known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which consists of 600+ questions), among some other miscellaneous tests. The mental health evaluation is long, but it is thorough, unlike the 12 question quizzes you take online.

  • You’ll receive a final appointment where you sit with your psychologist and discuss the findings of the mental health evaluation. Your psychologist will give you a complete report on the issues they see, how you seem to perceive the world, phobias and fears, and then a diagnosis, if they feel that you need one.

The mental health evaluation is the first step to recovery

I get my mental health diagnosis updates every 3–5 years, because I like to know if things are getting better or if there are parts of my world that are getting darker. The diagnosis, combined with therapy and potentially medication, are the first steps to recovering. You can then see a therapist that specializes in your diagnosis and go from there.

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Getting a mental health evaluation without health insurance

I realize the amount of privilege and luck I have, to be able to say I get my mental health evaluation done every few years. For most Americans, seeking professional mental health help is a luxury that they don’t even consider, due to the high cost.

If you would like to get a mental health evaluation but you don’t have insurance or the money to cover it, try seeking a free clinic that could help or a federally funded health center.

Alternatively, you could check if there are any mental health support groups that are run by professionals. There may also be peer-led mental health meetups that you could attend. These would take some personal research or googling to find.

It’s not the end all be all, if you are unable to get a mental health evaluation right now, though I’d be wary of self-diagnosing. I used to think that I had bipolar disorder, because of my erratic mood swings and psychotic breakdowns. It turned out to be borderline personality disorder and ptsd. As I got older, I got schizoaffective (bipolar type) added to my diagnosis. Honestly, even with the amount of exposure I have to the mental health space, I didn’t even know that these disorders I had existed.

If you need to seek help and support, you don’t need to present yourself by your diagnosis. You could let people know the symptoms of what you’re going through and seek help through your symptoms, rather than a complete diagnosis. The diagnosis can always come later.