How does a psychologist tell the difference between a mental disorder and a minor inconvenience?


Take for example ADHD. How can a psychologist tell the difference between someone who’s just super hyper and someone who has ADHD?

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It’s primarily about whether it negatively impacts your ability to function in a “normal” day-to-day capacity. If you have no control over it and it negatively impacts you, then this is a disorder.

Years of studying and practical training.

A mental disorder is something that affects your whole life and well-being. There is way more to having something like ADHD, aside from at times feeling hyper.
A psychologist measures the symptoms a person is experiencing against not just the known symptoms of the disorder, but also against how severely those symptoms affect that person’s life.

This is also why so many people struggle or fail to get diagnoses. They may not have the known symptoms as described, or they may have developed such effective coping mechanisms, that their disorder doesn’t affect their life as badly as others’.

If you can’t function properly and if it’s interfering with your ability to do your day to day activities then it’s a disorder. My therapist told me that everyone has psychological issues but it doesn’t affect everyone’s ability to function.

As others have said, it’s based on whether it interferes with your day to day life, that does mean that the diagnosis can be a bit subjective and context dependent, but that’s by design. No one can really tell you the “correct” way to live your life, if you like being ultra-hyper and you can find a way to get it to function within your life then great! It’s not a psychologists job to tell you who to be, but to help you if you want to change.

Psychologists and therapists have a reference manual: The DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). All named conditions (schizophrenia, anxiety, panic, narcissism, etc.) have a number of “boxes that need to be checked” in order to categorize any one patient as having this or that disorder. So, for example, Narcissism may have nine possible traits; if you have five of these, you can be considered to have Narcissistic Syndrome. This is the way Psychologists try to quantify disorders, rather than just “feel” this is the right diagnosis for a patient.