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Discussion: Diagnostic Labels as Powerful Communications

A diagnosis is powerful in the effect it can have on a person’s life and treatment protocol. When working with a client, a social worker must make important decisions—not only about the diagnostic label itself but about whom to tell and when. In this Discussion, you evaluate the use and communication of a diagnosis in a case study.

To prepare: Focus on the complex but precise definition of a mental disorder in the DSM-5 and the concept of dimensionality both there and in the Paris (2015) and Lasalvia (2015) readings. Also note that the definition of a mental disorder includes a set of caveats and recommendations to help find the boundary between normal distress and a mental disorder.

Then consider the following case:

Ms. Evans, age 27, was awaiting honorable discharge from her service in Iraq with the U.S. Navy when her colleagues noticed that she looked increasingly fearful and was talking about hearing voices telling her that the world was going to be destroyed in 2020. With Ms. Evans’s permission, the evaluating [social worker] interviewed one of her closest colleagues, who indicated that Ms. Evans has not been taking good care of herself for several months. Ms. Evans said she was depressed.

The [social worker] also learned that Ms. Evans’s performance of her military job duties had declined during this time and that her commanding officer had recommended to Ms. Evans that she be evaluated by a psychiatrist approximately 2 weeks earlier, for possible depression.

On interview, Ms. Evans endorsed believing the world was going to end soon and indicated that several times she has heard an audible voice that repeats this information. She has a maternal uncle with schizophrenia, and her mother has a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder. Ms. Evans’s toxicology screen is positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The evaluating [social worker] informs Ms. Evans that she is making a tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Source: Roberts, L. W., & Trockel, M. (2015). Case example: Importance of refining a diagnostic hypothesis. In L. W. Roberts & A. K. Louie (Eds.), Study guide to DSM-5 (pp. 6–7). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Study Guide to DSM-5(r), by Roberts, M.; Louie, A.; Weiss, L. Copyright 2015 by American Psychiatric Association. Reprinted by permission of American Psychiatric Association via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Post a 300- to 500-word response in which you address the following:

Identify the symptoms or “red flags” in the case study that may be evaluated for a possible mental health disorder.

Discuss how the social worker should have approached the diagnosis. In your analysis, consider the following questions:

Identify the symptoms or “red flags” in the case study that may be evaluated for a possible mental health disorder.

Should the social worker have shared this suspected diagnosis based on the limited assessment with Ms. Evans at this time?

Explain the potential impact of this diagnosis immediately and over time if the “tentative” diagnosis is a misdiagnosis.

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