When you feel failed by the NHS, the process of attaining a professional diagnosis privately caters to the wealthy and well-established.
"If what you are experiencing is disrupting your life, it's only natural to seek explanations".
If you have the means to see a private psychiatrist or other mental health specialist, there's a higher chance of leaving their office with a diagnosis in half the time. Choosing to go private means shorter waiting lists, professionals with fewer patients, and being able to contact people with connections to specialists in the field. This will ultimately boost the chances of receiving a diagnosis that will enable you to receive appropriate treatment.
When private mental healthcare is not an option
So, what if you can't afford to go private? Perhaps the waiting list to see a psychologist through the NHS is six months long, and when you finally see them they are unaware of the more complex issues that relate to your symptoms. This is especially concerning if you have a lesser-known or highly stigmatised condition which requires specialist treatment, like Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Does lacking an official diagnosis make your symptoms fake or redundant? Are you somehow less valid than an individual with the opportunities and connections to seek a diagnosis sooner? Is it right for society to expect you to put your healing on hold for the sake of a piece of paper?
Of course not. If you feel it is, maybe you should re-examine the reason you hold those views.
Self-diagnosis is not a substitute for diagnosis by a professional
Whether you have written confirmation yet or not - your struggles are real. This does not necessarily mean that you can say with absolute certainty that you have the disorder you suspect, but it is okay to explore self-diagnosis to make sense of your symptoms whilst you wait for a professional assessment.
Before I go any further, let me stress that self-diagnosis is in no way a replacement for the thorough examination by a professional. But this does not mean that assessing and tracking your symptoms should be a taboo. Keeping tabs on your experiences and symptoms is healthy practice for any individual, in any situation. If what you are experiencing is disrupting your life, it's only natural to seek explanations.
There's no shame in realising through your own research or a professional diagnostic assessment that you do not, in fact, have the disorder you thought you did. Both Borderline Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder, for example, involve a sense of identity confusion. Mistaking and misinterpreting symptoms of one for the other is nothing to be ashamed of, but be mindful not to become overly invested in having a particular disorder without seeking professional confirmation.
Alternatives to online “diagnostic” tests
Online tests are generally not a good method of self-diagnosis. However, talking to diagnosed individuals with similar symptoms can help you find answers to your questions in real-time - and from real people. Using professionally recognised sites such as the NHS website or 'Mind' to research what an illness means, how it works, and how it affects the lives of people who live with it can be a reassuring. It’s easy to feel alone when you are suffering: shame, guilt, and uncertainty can pile up. Brushing off your struggles because you don’t have a formal diagnosis doesn’t mean that what you're experiencing isn’t real, and denial - despite being extremely common - is often detrimental to healing.
If you have questions and need to wait to see a professional, there are communities and forums out there to help you, like the community that exists around our YouTube channel 'DissociaDID'. Many people come to us for answers, comparison, and advice surrounding symptoms of Dissociative Disorders. We witness members of the mental health online community reaching out to share their own stories with the frightened and the uncertain, helping to point them in the right direction for professional help. YouTube itself has a sometimes overwhelming supply of information for people experiencing mental health issues. From verified professionals to independent educators like myself who are living with diagnosed conditions, you can see people sharing knowledge and personal experiences of their disorders from all around the globe.
- See more: Denying the traumatic origin of Dissociative Identity Disorder denies those who live with it a recovery
- See more: It's not "just a film": the damaging effects of misrepresenting Dissociative Identity Disorder
- See more: 'Self diagnosis trivialises severe mental disorders' says the Royal College of Psychiatrists
Mental health education
Now that mental health is beginning to be taught in schools, perhaps we should encourage children to take a closer look at their own mental health. No one should be shamed for trying to understand what is affecting them, and having a diagnosis does not make the existence of a disorder any more or less real. It's important that children be supported in trying to understand their issues in healthy, reliable ways. If they that find their experiences and symptoms match that of a disorder, they may request to be assessed by a professional. If they conclude the child’s suspicions are accurate, more issues can be caught and treated early - this would lead to a more supported, understanding and healthy generation.
Ask questions. Connect with others. Get educated. And when the opportunity for a diagnosis arrives, not only will you be prepared, but confident in your assessment of how your symptoms affect your functioning and your ability to relay this accurately to a professional.
Chloe Wilkinson is the Host of the DissociaDID System - watch their YouTube channel for content debunking the myths and misconceptions surrounding Dissociative Identity Disorder.