At a glance

Life circumstances can impact on everyone and their emotional wellbeing. When someone’s thoughts, emotions and experiences are ongoing or distressing, a clinician may give them a diagnosis of an illness, disorder or condition to describe what is happening. People are not their diagnosis, though some people find a diagnosis helpful.

From a lived experience perspective, it is important that we describe a diagnosis for what it is: a medical term used to describe a set of symptoms. It is a quick way of summarising a person’s emotional experiences and behaviours. A person does not have a diagnosis; they are given a diagnosis.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

Often people with the same diagnosis have very different experiences. This means that people should never use a diagnosis to try and understand a person. The best source of information about what a person is experiencing is that person.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

Some diagnoses describe similar behaviours or experiences and can be grouped together:

  • People who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, usually experience fears that affect their quality of life and ability to do the things that they want to do. Anxiety disorders include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • People who are diagnosed with an eating disorder, usually have thoughts about food, weight and eating that lead them to make choices that affect their physical health. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
  • People who are diagnosed with a mood disorder, usually experience sadness or happiness more intensely and for a longer period of time than would be expected for their life circumstances. Mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder.
  • People who are diagnosed with a personality disorder, usually have thoughts and emotions that affect how they manage stress and relate to other people. Personality disorders include borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
  • People who are diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, usually think, hear, see or experience things in a way that is very different from other people. Psychotic disorders include schizophrenia.
  • People who are diagnosed with a substance related disorder, usually use a substance in a way that interferes in their life.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are trained to provide people with a mental health diagnosis. Diagnosing can be complex as it is difficult to categorise human experiences. 

… a diagnosis by itself is a poor guide to understanding a person or their experiences and could lead to workers making assumptions.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

Workers need to be encouraged to ask the person questions about their experiences and needs.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

At the end of the day, we need to ask people what they are going through and respond specifically to that.

 - A person with lived experience of a mental health condition


headspace: The Pros and Cons of Receiving a Diagnosis
In this video, headspace Youth National Reference Group members, Hannah and Sophie, outline some of the pros and cons of receiving a diagnosis for a mental health issue.
Type: Video | Closed captions
Duration 3.20 minutes

WayAhead: Factsheets
This website provides a range of fact sheets for wellbeing and mental illnesses, fact sheet translations and a directory of NSW services.

Head to Health: What you should know about mental health conditions and disorders?
Head to Health is an Australian Department of Health website which provides resources for people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists: Mental health professionals: Who's who?
There are a range of professionals who can help with mental health issues. This is a guide to the different mental health workers you might come across and describes who does what.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Mental health translations
This website provides access to health, wellbeing and mental health resources translated in many languages.​

Current as at: Monday 12 December 2022
Contact page owner: Mental Health