Who Can Diagnose Mental Illness?

Knowing who can accurately diagnose mental illnesses points you in the direction of help when concerning symptoms arise. In fact, only with a true diagnosis can effective recovery take place. The benefits of an accurate clinical diagnosis are immeasurable because it can help someone reclaim their life.

Jared was afraid of what an official diagnosis might mean. If he really has depression, would it be for the rest of his life? And how would people treat him differently? So, when his friend told him, “Oh, I feel really sad like that sometimes. And, eventually, it goes away. It’s nothing,” Jared was all too ready to accept the explanation. But his own immense sadness didn’t go away. In fact, it expanded into insomnia, so he’d be up most of the night with discouraging thoughts weighing heavily on his mind. Eventually, those thoughts became suicidal.

Fortunately, he had another friend with a different piece of advice: get professional help. When symptoms suggest any possibility of a mental illness, a clinical diagnosis is the key to getting better. When someone tries to wait out the symptoms, not only is there a good chance that they can get much worse, but it’s also possible that irreversible mental damage can occur.

So, who can diagnose mental illness? For someone to identify an accurate diagnosis from a wide range of possible mental disorders, they must have extensive experience. They must also have proper training because there are specific processes in place that guide clinicians to narrow in on the true cause of an individual’s symptoms. And, of course, they must be able to recognize and identify when multiple disorders are occurring together. Finally, they are able to point a client in the direction of appropriate treatment options. Let’s look at who is granted the responsibility to make a psychological diagnosis.

Who Can Diagnose Mental Illness?


In order to accurately diagnose a mental illness, a professional must be able to recognize concerning symptoms in a client and then differentiate among the wide-ranging possible disorders that could cause those symptoms. A clinician must have enough training and experience to confidently make an assessment that will then lead to treatment actions. Only certain practitioners are qualified to diagnose mental illness, and fewer practitioners are qualified to prescribe the full range of appropriate treatments.

A Psychiatrist

A psychiatrist is best prepared to diagnose mental health disorders. Not only do they have an extensive breadth of experience in mental health, but they also have experience in medical health. This is significant because they are better able to distinguish among possible disorders, which could include medical conditions as well as psychological ones.

In many cases, symptoms could be the result of various disorders, both medical and psychological. And a clinician must be able to rule out the overlapping possibilities to identify the correct disorder. Psychiatrists are best prepared to identify accurate diagnoses because their knowledge is so diverse and their experience with mental health is so extensive. Besides, often, a client will be experiencing more than one mental and/or medical disorders at once, and a psychiatrist is equipped to assess these complex cases.

A psychiatrist is also prepared to prescribe any available treatment option, including medication. And in most cases, they are also trained to lead clients in behavioral therapy approaches. A psychiatrist is the best type of clinician to oversee a client with a severe mental illness.

A Psychologist

A psychologist is also trained in the processes of diagnosing mental disorders. They do have extensive knowledge and experience in psychology. But the depth of their training is less extensive than that of a psychiatrist, and they do not have the additional medical education. When there is the possibility of a medical disorder influencing symptoms or a co-occurring medical disorder, a psychologist may need to partner with a medical doctor or psychiatrist in the care of their client.

A psychologist cannot prescribe medications, but they can implement effective therapeutic approaches that are critically important to recovery from a mental illness. Psychologists typically work with clients over a very long period of time for growing and lasting results.

A General Practitioner (GP)

A general practitioner is technically qualified to diagnose mental disorders. However, as a practitioner of general medicine, they likely have less experience with, and understanding of, the many specific mental health disorders than psychiatrists and psychologists do.

Therefore, they may be in a good position to diagnose and treat very minor cases of mental distress, but they are not the best sole provider for moderate to severe conditions or cases that are complicated by co-occurring problems. A general practitioner will refer clients to a psychiatrist when a more complex assessment is required for an accurate diagnosis.

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What Are the Benefits of an Accurate Diagnosis?


With an accurate diagnosis, recovery is possible. Even though Jared was nervous about being labeled with a specific condition, as soon as he began treatment, his life brightened in unimaginable ways. He had forgotten what it felt like to really connect with others, with his life, with his big goals. As he started to gain more clarity and confidence, he was able to take a larger role in his own treatment and recovery, working with his care providers.

Once a person receives a true diagnosis of their mental health, they are no longer so alone. They can be assured that there are others going through similar struggles, and they may even begin group treatments alongside those peers they can relate to. Once a diagnosis is identified, there are known treatment options ready to address the underlying problems and ease the uncomfortable symptoms.

A diagnosis is also like a language that various care providers can understand. So, they can collaborate to offer clients the very best combination of treatment options. And with diverse care providers on their side, an individual can have support for all areas of their life, including relationship, life skills, vocational, and self-care support. A diagnosis is a critical first step toward empowered healing.


Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders, eating disorders, and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.