Mental Health Diagnosis: We Take a Closer Look

Something we face as social workers is the perception of mental illness amongst those who do not understand what the symptoms look like. Often, we face the work of the media that exaggerates or misrepresents the symptoms, the cultural beliefs that mental health is “not real” and the misconceptions that many believe. It is part of our duties as social workers to provide mental health education, not only to those we work directly with, but to others as well to continue to normalize the discussion regarding mental health. Today, we are going to take a look at some of the diagnoses we often see and share what they really mean, verus the misconceptions we often see. 

Disclaimer: Each mental health diagnosis has specific criteria that must be met by the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Each of our social workers have a Masters Degree in Social Work and years of experience to assist them in identifying and diagnosing symptoms. Our descriptions today are going to be brief, but in reality, each mental health diagnosis comes with a variety of symptoms and signs. We are focusing on the most commonly observed by our staff within our description. However, to get an accurate diagnosis, it is important to speak to a primary care physician or mental health professional individually. 


Myth: If someone is depressed, it’s because they aren’t focusing on the good in his/her life. He is looking at the negatives only, he is dramatic, he is lazy and needs to just “get over it.” 

Reality: Depression is something that is triggered when something within our brains is not functioning as it should. This can be triggered by external factors, such as diet, stress or a traumatic event, or internal factors such as genetics. It is not a choice that someone makes to simply “focus on the negative” or “become lazy” but instead can take their ability away to feel hopeful. 

What depression really looks like: 

  • Isolating and refraining from engaging in normal activities, like spending time with loved ones
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless; “this won’t ever get better” 
  • Feeling as though it takes monumental effort to complete “normal tasks” such as taking a shower, cleaning the house, going to work 

What depression looks like: 


Myth: “When someone has bi-polar disorder, it means that one second they can feel happy and the next they can feel sad. They can be nice one second, and then the very next second it’s like they are a different person. It’s like flipping on and off a switch.” 

Reality: Bi-polar disorder is not something that often switches that quickly and can be more realistically compared to waves. It is characterized by two different periods: depressed and manic. While the depressed portion is similar to what we see with depression, the manic side is extremely different. 

Mania can be characterized by a difficult time making rational decisions, often failing to see the consequences of one’s actions. It can impact the speed in one’s speech, often with someone experiencing mania speaking much faster than normal. It can result in difficulty concentrating or relaxing and often impacts one’s ability to sleep. 

What bipolar really looks like: 

  • A feeling of loss of control regarding one’s emotions 
  • A wave between depression and mania, often after long periods of time with each 
  • A feeling of unpredictability felt by family members and friends 

What bipolar looks like: 

In the future, we are going to also take a look at Personality Disorders, as well as Schizophrenia, Anxiety Disorder and Dementia.