People generally seem to be averse to using mental health labels, as if having a diagnosis of some sort becomes a whole identity and limits a person forever. When I was a new counselor, I was afraid of diagnosing clients with illnesses “officially” because it felt like a responsibility with enormous repercussions. 

One day, I was nervous to see a client because I knew I had to talk to them about a suspected diagnosis. I, myself, had internalized judgments about this diagnosis and believed the person would as well. Instead, what happened that day, and what I have seen repeatedly, is that when I bring up a possible diagnosis people are generally relieved.  It’s like we know something is wrong with us, we just don’t know what, and the undefinedness of it is upsetting. But suddenly having a name for what is going on is actually reassuring.  

Getting a diagnosis, or label, provides a doorway to understanding.  There are bodies of research about most diagnoses, and treatments where needed, and communities where people gather virtually or in real life to have camaraderie around that diagnosis. 

The insight we can get when we know what is going on in our brains can be tremendously helpful.  For example, people with ADHD might experience difficulty concentrating on things that are uninteresting or viewed as unimportant, but be able to concentrate fully on something that is deemed interesting to them (e.g. video games). ADHD is not necessarily the inability to ever focus. People who do not know they have ADHD might judge themselves as lazy for not being able to focus on school or tasks, and if they knew they had ADHD they might understand themselves better and also be able to employ strategies that can help them accomplish tasks.   

I like the gem in this image about learning about an autism diagnosis. There is comfort in knowing you’re a normal zebra, not a strange horse.