What is a diagnosis?
A diagnosis is a way of describing a group of feelings, symptoms or experiences.
Just like getting a diagnosis for a physical health problem, like eczema or diabetes, a health professional can give you a mental health diagnosis based on what you're experiencing.
For example, if you feel very low, are finding it difficult to get out of bed and are crying a lot of the time, you might be given a diagnosis of depression.
Even though lots of us can have the same diagnosis, we might all experience our condition differently.
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Just because you've been diagnosed with an illness doesn't mean you have to, or will, tick every box.
A diagnosis can be made by a health professional, like your doctor. They might give you a diagnosis themselves. Or they might send you to a mental health service, like Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
To make a diagnosis, they might ask you about:
- Feelings, thoughts and behaviours you're experiencing
- How long you've been feeling this way
- Any effects these feelings and experiences are having on your life
- Any problems you're having at home, school or work
- Your physical health – any changes to your sleep, eating and activity levels
Some mental health problems are easier to diagnose than others. For example, if you're experiencing anxiety or depression, your doctor might be able to give you a diagnosis after a couple of appointments.
It can take a while to get a diagnosis for some mental health problems. You might be asked to see how you feel over a period of time. This is to make sure your doctor understands what you're experiencing.
When you get a diagnosis, your doctor or health professional should talk you through what happens next. They should also talk you through the different types of treatments and support you can get.
Getting a diagnosis can feel like a big step. It might help to:
- Talk to someone – for advice on how to talk to friends and family about your mental health, see our page on opening up to others. If you need confidential advice, you can also call Childline.
- Find out about your condition – for more information on different conditions, see our page on types of mental health problems or visit the YoungMinds website.
- Look for places to get support and treatment – you can ask your doctor or health professional for more information or see our page on finding support.
A diagnosis can feel quite scary, but it can make you feel relieved to know you're not the only one who feels the way you do.
If you don't want to, you don't have to tell anyone about your diagnosis.
Your doctor usually won't talk to your parents, carers or guardians about your diagnosis either – except if they think you or someone else could be in danger.
Getting a diagnosis can sometimes be a good thing. It can help you to:
- Understand your feelings
- Find a name for what you've been experiencing
- Feel a sense of relief that you're not the only person to feel like this
- Find more information about your condition
- Find the right support and treatments designed to help with your diagnosis
- Explain to others what's going on
- Connect with others who have similar experiences
Even if you don't have a diagnosis, you can still find support and get help with your symptoms.
Talk openly about neurodivergence and anxiety, as it will allow people to ask questions which will then lead them to be able to support you and understand you better – Joseph, 17
You might have mixed feelings about getting a diagnosis:
- You might not agree with your diagnosis, or feel like it doesn't really explain what you're experiencing. If this is the case, you might find it more helpful to focus on your symptoms instead.
- You might think it's an unhelpful label and worry people will treat you differently because of it.
A diagnosis is one way of explaining what you're experiencing, but it doesn't need to define who you are. Your own thoughts and feelings can be just as important in understanding what you're experiencing, and working out how to feel better.
I wish somebody had been there after my assessments, to tell me that a diagnosis doesn't define me and that doctors are there to help me.
If you don't agree with your diagnosis, you should speak to your doctor and explain why. But not every doctor has the same ideas about diagnoses and treatment.
You can ask to speak to another doctor to see if they think that your diagnosis could be different. This is called getting a ‘second opinion’.
You don't have a legal right to a second opinion. But, if your doctor won't refer you for a second opinion, you should ask them to explain why. If you're unhappy with their reasons, you have the right to make a complaint. Sometimes this can be difficult, so you may want to ask a trusted adult to help.
It's your choice whether you want to tell your school, college, university or work about your diagnosis. You might find it helpful to tell them so they can understand what you're going through.
They may also be able to offer you some support, like:
- Being there to listen if you need someone to talk to.
- Giving you information about support they offer, like a school counsellor or wellbeing service.
- Making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you with things you find difficult because of your diagnosis.
The diagnosis helped at school… my teachers understood if I needed to leave class at certain points to get support from school counselling, or if I was a little late or struggling.
Having a diagnosis of a mental health problem shouldn't mean you can't go to university or limit the type of job you can do. Unless it's a very specific job and there's a very good reason why you can't do it.
Your experience may even make you a better employee, as you can understand others with similar experiences.
Applying for jobs
When you're applying for a job, there are only a few situations where an employer can ask you about your mental health.
They might ask to find out if:
- You need reasonable adjustments to the application process
- You will be able to do important tasks in the role
- You can protect national security, like if you were applying for certain jobs in the government
- They're receiving job applications from a wide range of people
If an employer asks you about your mental health before a job offer is made, and it's not for a reason in the list above, this may be discrimination.
After you're offered a job, your new employer can ask you about your health. If your new employer takes a job offer back once you've told them about your mental health problem, this might also be discrimination.
You can find out more on our page for over 18s about applying for jobs.
I have found it important to ask for help in settings that can give me it. It takes persistence but is worth doing to remove barriers so you can achieve what you want to.
Should I tell my teachers or employers about my diagnosis?
For most courses and jobs, it's your choice whether you want to tell them about your mental health problem.
Telling your course leaders or employer about your mental health can help them to understand how you're feeling and plan how they can best support you.
You could think about telling them:
- What helps you to stay mentally well. Think about what steps you could take if you start to experience poor mental health, or what your manager or teacher could do to help you to stay mentally well.
- Which situations at work, college or university could bring about poor mental health. If you can think of any situation that might affect your wellbeing, ask yourself what support could be put in place to help manage this.
- How experiencing poor mental health might start to affect your work or study. If you know for example that you will need to take a few days off during a period of poor mental health.
- Whether there are any signs of when you're starting to experience poor mental health. If you know of any signs and your manager or teacher does notice any, let them know what they should do.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
These are services that support young people with their mental health.
You might see them called different names sometimes, but they offer the same type of services for young people:
- In Wales, they're called Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (SCAMHS)
- In England or Wales, you might also hear them called Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS)
Find out more in our CAMHS information hub.
Counsellors listen to you and give you a safe space to explore how you’re thinking, feeling and behaving. They also help you find ways to cope with things.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Equality Act 2010
This is the law that protects you from discrimination and gives you the right to challenge it.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
Discrimination is when someone treats you differently or unfairly because of:
- Your age
- Your disability
- Your gender
- Your gender identity
- Your sexuality
- Your relationship status
- Your religion or beliefs
- Your race, skin colour or where you were born
- Being pregnant or having a child
In the UK, a law called the Equality Act protects you from discrimination.
The Equality Act says you have a disability if you have a physical or mental health problem that has a substantial, negative, and long-term effect on your day-to-day life.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in July 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.