An essay by Brian McLaughlin, Advocate

Diagnosis of Serious Mental Illness: What is in a Name?

Some years ago, I heard an interesting quote: "If you meet one child with a diagnosis of autism. You have met exactly one child with a diagnosis of Autism." Hence the term Autism Spectrum Disorder. As the diagnosis of autism falls on a spectrum. Its expression varies from child to child and from adult to adult.

The same can be said for the numerous diagnostic labels contained in the (DSM) or "Diagnostic Statistical Manual."; a volume that attempts to label, describe, categorize, and define diagnoses of mental illnesses.

I will speak to my own diagnosis of Bi-polar One Disorder as I know it best. The label of Bi-polar One Disorder speaks to an illness marked by a cycling of mood, and an a-typical frequency, accompanying energy level, and observable changes in behavior. As with the diagnosis of autism the diagnosis of Bi-polar One Disorder differs from person to person.

More specifically, bi-polar disorder is marked by changes in mood, emotion, energy level, self-perception, and behavior. A person with a diagnosis of Bi-polar One Disorder tends to cycle in the above mentioned ways. Cycling can be rapid from moment to moment or over longer periods of time. The cycle can be extreme or more muted.

For example, mood/emotion. A person diagnosed with Bi-polar One Disorder often exhibits moods ranging from elation to despair. Agitation to profound dormancy. One's energy level can range from manic and seeming boundless to depressed. Self-perception can cycle between grandeur to self-loathing. Behavior can range from extreme to reserved. Cycling can be rapid and pronounced or slow and less pronounced.

These factors while present in persons with a diagnosis of Bi-polar One Disorder may vary widely from person to person. Therefore, when you have met one person diagnosed with Bi-polar One Disorder or Manic-Depression you have met exactly one person with the diagnosis of Bi-polar One Disorder.

While it is important to know the label or diagnosis it is more important to know the person.

Respectfully Submitted,


Brian Patrick McLaughlin MS/CPS
MH Consumer Advocate
Erie County, PA.


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