IS THIS NORMAL? Differential Diagnosis 101

The most common question people ask when they discover I’m a psychologist is – “Is This Normal?

This question is a significant motivator for creating this psychology blog in the first place.

Because too often people suffer because of lack of understanding versus a diagnosable medical condition.

differential diagnosis  ·  the process of differentiating between two or more conditions which share similar signs or symptoms.

Case Study

Two people present with similar symptoms (e.g., rapid heart beat, excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating) with vastly different causes.

On closer inspection

One person’s symptoms is caused by lack of sleep, excessive caffeine consumption, and a recent breakup.

While the other person’s symptoms is caused by a mental illness, as diagnosed by a registered psychologist, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

One improves with time and lifestyle changes, while the other requires more intensive psychological intervention.

Education Empowers Everyone

This is why it’s my life mission to share psychology everywhere, all the time.

In the classroom. During podcasts. On YouTubeRadioTelevision. Psychology articles, textbooks and blog posts. On the TEDx stage.  Instagram . In between sets at F45 workouts.. and at the local coffee shop.

Psychology is my favourite subject after all.

Psychology Goals

To make DAILY mental health education accessible, sustainable, and easily APPLICABLE.

To eradicate misconceptions about normal versus abnormal functioning.

To help students develop positive coping techniques in fun, interactive, and uplifting ways.

To reduce stigma about mental illness.

To encourage people to seek professional help and guidance for mental health queries.

Instead of simply asking a friend’s opinion on a topic of utmost importance.

Video:

Therapy versus Talking to Friends: What’s the difference?

Especially when it comes to transitory states, emotions, and situations.

Stress versus panic disorder.

Sadness versus clinical depression.

Neatness versus obsessive compulsive disorder.

The topic of this week’s psychology video:

Video:

What’s Normal? What’s Not?

Temporary Emotions versus Mental Illness

For example, distressing emotions often improve with rest, perspective, and time.

While mental illness requires more ongoing medical support and therapy to see improved functioning.

My hope is that mental health education becomes paramount in both the classroom and the doctor’s office.

An ongoing conversation about what’s healthy versus what’s not.

So that people don’t automatically assume they’re mentally ill simply because they’re having a bad day.

More Resources Coming Soon!

Mental Health Matters

Host Dr. Kathy Garland

SITUATIONAL ANXIETY with Dr. Dinardo

Live Interview

Airing July 31, 2020!

Stay Tuned for Dr. Garland’s Video & Podcast!

36 thoughts on “IS THIS NORMAL? Differential Diagnosis 101

  1. krish

    So true….Dr Andrea…
    Most of the time people suffer because of lack of understanding….refusing to seek professional suport….opting to live in denial…
    The answer lies in education which should as early as possible…
    Waiting for more…
    Regards..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Your work is so vitally important Andrea, especially now with all that is occurring in the world right now. So many people under stress, and under pressure, which are affecting old and young alike.. So your expertise is so needed in this area…
    Beautifully laid out and explained..

    From being a person under huge stress years ago not realising it was creeping up on me, and not understanding until I mentally broke to pieces one day when something just snapped inside and I no longer knew how to even get to work that morning…. To become a bundle of nerves shaking from head to toe…
    It’s so important to recognise symptoms and make those lifestyle changes that will help individuals with their coping mechanisms..
    Thank you Andrea… 🙂 I have yet to go back to your video to listen.. But you always speak perfect sense….
    Much love and Gratitude..
    Sue 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sue! You had me at your first sentence 💗

      Thank you for sharing your own personal experience. Real life experiences are vital to my work. And the fact that you find my videos and blog posts helpful – well that = motivation x 💯

      Wishing you an evening full of peace & hope.
      #inthistogether ALWAYS

      Like

  3. This is really important. I know as someone living with chronic illness, I am often told “I’m just depressed.” My psychologist helps me recognize that any depression I experience is situational and not the cause of my condition.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yours is a powerful example of how symptoms of depression are also caused by an underlying health condition – chronic illness especially.

      Plus I love knowing that you are seeing a psychologist. Thank you for sharing this. Wisdom and Self Care of the highest kind.

      I personally went through a difficult time in my late twenties and early thirties, and I am most proud of the times I reached out for therapy and support. Life lessons greater than my PhD in psychology.

      Thank you again VJ for sharing how this ^ post relates to your own life experience. Your words make my page come alive.✨

      I also wanted to share that I will be teaching a brand new course called Health Psychology in the Nursing Program this Fall. It includes a chapter on chronic health conditions and it’s toll on one’s psychology.

      I will keep you posted!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so welcome Syl! But I hope you know that the gratitude goes both ways.

      Because of the pandemic, I have had to leave my greatest joy behind – face to face teaching in the classroom with psychology students.

      Which makes blogging more essential than ever – as I am hoping to expand my classroom world wide.

      And YOU help make this happen. ☀️💛☀️

      Like

  4. I think you have nailed it right on the head. I am a special ed teacher, not currently working, and so many of the kids I work with just thought they “were crazy”. I would stop everything we were doing to find out what they thought they were doing was crazy and why so many of the things they thought or thought they knew were common to so many people. kids think they are the only ones out there like them. I always tried to show them how normal is so “not-normal”. I have teaching certs and administration but I should have saved myself a lot of time and gotten my school psych degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your real life experience in the classroom! Your insights and reflections give my post ‘extra weight’.

      Because if everything is ‘exceptional’ / unique / diagnosable than no categories are needed.

      Normal Development versus Abnormal Development in speech, motor skills, learning, attention, focus – is much more complicated than a google search. Otherwise, why did I bother getting a PhD and becoming a licensed school psychologist.

      And as you said too, perhaps you would have would have pursued school psych degree too… it’s never too late btw ✨

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love it but my husband passed away two years ago, then my son a year ago. I don’t work, I resigned from teaching after losing my son. I couldn’t go back to work with kids who complained about having to go to school, when I had lost my son who loved to learn. I just couldn’t find the empathy. It is hard to have a good attitude when it is typical high school kids who have the opportunity to learn and just throw it back at you. I understand why but being in grief took my understanding away for a time. It is coming back but now the schools are all shut down. I would like to be a special education director when I go back.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. What a wonderful dream – for both you and all the students you have yet to meet. Given all your life experience and what I have read on your blog, you would make an incredible special education leader. Consider it added to my vision board for you. Dreams are best lived out loud. I wish double for you.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You are doing such a great job of ‘teaching’ the rest of us what is ‘normal’ versus what is not and how to deal…. keep up the awesome work!

    Lives are changing each time you share/speak. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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