I’ve recently received several letters and emails from parents whose kids are receiving treatment, both pharmaceutical and therapy-related, without a firm diagnosis. These concerned mothers and fathers are relieved that meds are being prescribed and that their childrens’ sometimes life-threatening symptoms are abating; but they’re left wondering and worried and wanting the bottom line.
I try to set them at ease as well as call them to action. It takes most psychiatrists a minimum of two or three visits to issue a diagnosis, and sometimes twice that many.
Since blood tests don’t identify brain disorders, and reliable imaging diagnostics are still in the development stage, doctors must rely on anecdotal information. This means they base their diagnosis on information gleaned from talking to family and observing the patient.
Mental illnesses have been documented and diagnosed for over 100 years, so a good psychiatrist will recognize hallmarks and symptoms and issue a diagnosis when he has ruled out all other possibilities.
If the process is taking too long for your liking, become proactive. Keep charts, logs or journals. If your child is old enough, she should keep her own in addition to the information you’re logging from a parent’s perspective. Note behaviors, symptoms and medication side effects.
Be aware of and document:
moods (depression, anger, mania)
an increase or decrease in appetite
changes in peer and family relationships
variations in school performance
feelings about herself
suicidality or ideations
hearing or seeing things that are not there
paranoia or heightened suspiciousness
It’s also important to be aware of possible side effects of the prescribed medications so that you can recognize and document them should they occur.
A log of these particulars provides the doctor with a road map of symptoms that will lead him in the direction of an appropriate diagnosis.
If you’d like to download a printable mood chart for you and/or a loved one to fill out click here.