When a person is evaluated for the possibility of a mental disorder, a number of key symptoms must manifest in order to make a clean and clear diagnosis. The clinician or mental health professional’s expertise as well as the guiding criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) both contribute to an accurate identification of one’s mental issue. However, what happens when the symptoms don’t define a certain mental condition?
This kind of situation is much more common than one might think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 43.7 million adults over the age of 17 suffer from any type of mental disorder in the United States, with 45 percent of those meeting the requirements for two or more disorders. Although the principle of Occam’s razor may declare that a simpler explanation has priority over a more complicated one, this rising trend of simultaneous afflictions indicates otherwise.
One of the most common variables that mental disorders can share is substance use and addiction. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 8.9 million Americans have problems with a mental illness and drugs, also known as co-occurring disorders or comorbidity. When a serious and chronic mental condition begins to weaken or distort a person’s mind, he or she may turn to a drug to relieve the pain. However, this course of action only leads to a steep slope of further trouble. Reversely, a prolonged and abusive relationship with an addictive substance can erode an individual’s sense of self and induce a mental disorder from addiction alone.
A common issue associated with multiple mental conditions is an overall difficulty with overcoming the solely identified disorder. This is because only one side of the problem is being treated, leaving the undiagnosed problem free to continue causing trouble. In a case of substance addiction, this would be characterized by repeated relapse. An underlying mental illness may be causing excess distress or pain that will increase the likeliness of continuing the cycle of substance use. In other cases, a resistant disorder may be fueled by the consequences of addiction or the strains of another psychological issue. Dealing with the existence of mental illnesses is similar to trying to deal with a turbulent channel of water. One cannot only block part of the stream, as the unblocked path will simply flow harder. The entirety must be addressed completely and all at once to achieve effective results.
Unfortunately, when theory transitions to practice, many physicians and professionals have a hard time effectively examining people for additional mental conditions. The procedure for efficiently treating simultaneous conditions has been developed greatly over recent decades and is also known as dual diagnosis. Various studies have pioneered the use of more extensive diagnostic interviews to better predict coexisting disorders.
One line of research criticizes the current status of treatment strategies regarding comorbidity and points out the need for a more robust, dimensional approach. By viewing psychological issues on a fluid continuum, diagnoses are less limited and more precise (Krueger, 1999). In another study, a dominating percentage of clinicians reported that the methods helped identify and clarify the suspicion of an underlying disorder. On the other hand, 26 percent of these clinicians believed the process was too time-consuming, especially with a doctor’s ever-increasing patient load in the modern age of treatment (Weissman et. al., 1995).
Despite these obstacles of traditional treatment, the need for dual diagnosis methodology is still heavily desired today. Luckily, many innovating treatment centers provide these comprehensive services across the nation, including in California.
For further education about identifying and addressing possible underlying conditions, visit the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline for helpful blogs and articles. If you or someone you know suffers from more than one mental disorder, speak with our representatives online or call 855-980-1736 for help.