We Need to Stop Diagnosing Our Emotions

We Need to Stop Diagnosing Our Emotions

Technology and social media have given us many good things. Among which include opening all of our worlds and minds to the reality and prevalence of mental illness. We have made major strides in the efforts to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness. Finally people are not hiding in the shadows, afraid to ask for help. Mental illness is a huge topic of discussion these days, decreasing stigma and increasing acceptance; however, it seems to me that with this huge push to normalize mental illness the pendulum has swung too far and we are getting into dangerous grounds of over pathologizing.

  Nowadays, it is not only normal to see people openly posting about their anxiety or depression, but it’s commonplace in one’s newsfeed. Whether it is lengthy anecdotes, vague posts, or memes making light of mental illness, one cannot get on social media anymore without seeing these types of posts.  I get it, they can be funny and they really can be helpful but at what point to these “jokes” become detrimental?

To be very clear, mental illness like anxiety, depression, bipolar, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are real issues people battle with. I do not want this article to be viewed as an attempt to downplay mental illness, because that is the opposite of my point. My goal with this post is to clarify the difference between normal human emotions and an actual clinical diagnosis. It is also noteworthy that you do not need a formal diagnosis to need or want validation and someone to talk to. Therapy can be helpful in navigating feelings and helping you develop skills to manage them more effectively on your own. 

The emphasis of this post is instead of normalizing mental illness (which is important), I’d like to normalize emotions. In my experience, it seems like we are all chasing some unrealistic idea of what happiness should be or even what our life should be like. In a recent report of the World Happiness Index, America fell 4 more spots from last year, putting as 18th in comparison with 150 other countries. Granted, we are not 150th, so I suppose that is something, but come on! This is America, should we be in the top 5 at least?! But nope, and why is that?  Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for that, but I do think one factor is the issue I’m trying to address and that is the need to reduce our over self-diagnosis of our human emotions. 



  The most common diagnoses that get thrown around are Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar and OCD. We need to be careful using these labels so will-nilly because it does take away some of the validity of an actual diagnosis and it sets a tone for your life, dooming you to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are sad and start saying, “I’m depressed,” and you talk to everyone about how you have depression, you make jokes about it and posts about it, after a while you won’t really be able to differentiate what not feeling those things is like any more and may begin to subconsciously act in a way that could manifest more serious symptoms. The prevalence of posts and memes has created a social media atmosphere where someone who might be dealing with normal day-to-day anxiety, to start questioning, “Is this normal? Do I have anxiety too?” 

  Regardless whether you have a clinical diagnosis or not, I want to implore you to be more mindful about what you share and post on social media when it comes to mental illness. It is important to normalize mental illness but be aware of the culture we create online and the messages we spread and the impact of that on others’ lives. When we are bombarded with those kinds of posts and messages, they infiltrate our minds in a way being bullied or emotionally abused can. They become a part of our narrative when otherwise they wouldn’t. 

These feelings are normal human emotions that serve purposes in our life. Being sad does not mean you have depression. You are not “Bipolar” if you have mood swings throughout the day. Liking things organized doesn’t make you “OCD”. These terms are not just used to describe severity but rather a combination of other factors including duration, presence of other symptoms, impact on the body, and impact on one’s daily level of functioning. The same can be said for anxiety. Having an actual clinical diagnosis of either of these conditions is more than just feeling sad or anxious. So let’s look at what a mental health professional would look for in making these diagnoses. 


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance). 

B. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry. 

C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months): 

1. Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge. 

2. Being easily fatigued. 

3. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank. 

4. Irritability. 

5. Muscle tension. 

6. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep). 

D. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

E. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism). 

F. The disturbance is not better explained by another medical disorder (e.g., anxiety or worry about having panic attacks in panic disorder, negative evaluation in social anxiety disorder [social phobia], contamination or other obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation from attachment figures in separation anxiety disorder, reminders of traumatic events in posttraumatic stress disorder, gaining weight in anorexia nervosa, physical complaints in somatic symptom disorder, perceived appearance flaws in body dysmorphic disorder, having a serious illness in illness anxiety disorder, or the content of delusional beliefs in schizophrenia or delusional disorder).


The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition.


After reading through these, hopefully one of two things has occurred. You have either A) realized the things you have been feeling are not as pathological as you thought, or B) perhaps they are and it might be beneficial for you to reach out for help. It’s also important to note that self-harm and suicidal inclinations don’t arise from non-depressive sadness. Those struggling with severe depression may have thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide, or have a suicide plan. If you’re feeling suicidal or just need to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free at 1-800-273-8255. 

If you do have any concerns or questions about your mental health, feel free to contact us today to set up an appointment with one of our therapists and find out how we can help you in your journey to either coping with your emotions or find answers with your mental health and managing a mental illness.  


Ashleigh Gabriel, LCSW




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