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Biopsychosocial Approaches to Diagnosing Mental Illness

Info: 976 words (4 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 3rd Dec 2020

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Tagged: biopsychosocial

Many people say that people with mental health disorders are not easy to understand and describe them as abnormalities because they do not fit in the society, but there are many studies investigating mental health illness and the stigma of looking at this subject is improving. Applying the right knowledge to investigate, diagnose and get the right treatment is an advantage. As Toates (2013) as mentioned in Chapter 1, a good understanding of biological, psychological and social factors is essential and this is known as the biopsychosocial approach. These factors are interdependent and clinicians see them together as a holistic approach. The biopsychosocial approach and diagnosing mental health illness is the main subject of this essay.

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As mentioned in Chapter 4, the purpose of a clinician is to build a diagnosis. A diagnosis is collected by identifying the signs and symptoms of the individuals current state and determine their syndrome(s). Having said that, if an individual is diagnosed with more than one mental health illness at the same time it is referred to as comorbidity. From chapter 1 of the module material, Neah presented signs and symptoms about her depression, which most of them are subjective reported. It says to be a subjective report when an individual state their feelings as a symptom and as a result the clinician cannot see them. She state ‘I can see no purpose in living’  because of her traumatic divorce and the loss of her parents, equally ‘she feels flu-like symptoms’ (Toates, 2013, p.2). She also displays signs of depression when stating that she finds difficult to get up in the morning.

In fact, there are several steps to build a diagnosis and the starting point of this process is a psychological assessment of an individual along with the biopsychosocial approach. As part of a psychological assessment and testing, the clinician has to collect as much information as they can and under those circumstances, they base their assessment on a clinical interview, clinical history, information from relatives and friends and tests such as EEG. Samuel is a good example where the psychological assessment was applied.  Samuel was a very bright man who worked in telecommunications, but since he had a car accident which killed his partner his behaviour has changed. Further, he was referred to a mental health team by his GP with a differential diagnosis of three different disorders: bipolar, schizophrenia and PTSD. That said, what is a  differential diagnosis? It is a process where the clinician is able to select from multiple disorders the one that corresponds to the patient diagnosis. Having a diagnosis is very useful either for the clinician and/or the patient. To the clinician, having a diagnosis facilitates communication with the patient, enabling him to get better treatment and saying that, a better quality of care and researchers can investigate causes of a specific disorder(s) and what they have in common. To the patient, having a diagnosis, helps them to understand why they have certain symptoms which they cannot explain (Toates, 2013, p.117).

By starting with the clinical interview, as mentioned in Chapter 4, the clinician was able to recognise and distinguish most of Samuel’s signs such as being ‘scruffy’, ‘slumped shoulders’, being ‘uncooperative’, angry and tearful (Toates, 2013, p.127). Here, the clinician can get an examination of the mental state of the patient at the present time by listening and giving the opportunity for the patient to talk, extracting information about his psychological symptoms. With this in mind, the clinician starts the clinical interview by gathering specific information about the patient clinical history. The clinical history is the patient present complaint, previous mental health history and family history of mental health illness. In addition, aside from the patient signs and symptoms, there are relatives and friends which report what is different in the individual from their normal. All of this information is taking into consideration when formulating a diagnosis.

All these things considered, the clinician can construct a case formulation by bringing all the information together, presenting a hypothesis along with the biopsychosocial approach explored. By identifying a diagnosis the clinician is able to instruct a treatment to the patient. Must be remembered, that the clinician will follow up the patient as the diagnosis can change over time and/or the clinician can get a wrong diagnosis, so the patient will have a re-evaluation to be assessed again and importantly, the clinician can identifying how is the patient responding to the treatment given (Toates, 2013, p.133).

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To summarize, the biopsychosocial approach is important to diagnose mental health illness, because as mentioned previously in this essay, clinicians collect extent information to formulate a diagnosis using biological, psychological and social factor as a whole and either cannot be used exclusively to identify the signs and symptoms of an individual.


  • Toates, F. (2013), ‘Chapter 1: Explanations in mental health’, SDK228 Block 1: Core concepts in Mental Health, pp. 2-4, Milton Keynes, The Open University
  • Toates, F. (2013), ‘Chapter 1: Explanations in mental health’, SDK228 Block 1: Core concepts in Mental Health, pp. 14-15, Milton Keynes, The Open University
  • Toates, F. (2013), ‘Chapter 1: Explanations in mental health’, SDK228 Block 1: Core concepts in Mental Health, p. 19, Milton Keynes, The Open University
  • Toates, F. (2013), ‘Chapter 4: Diagnosing mental illness’, SDK228 Block 1: Core concepts in Mental Health, pp. 116-135, Milton Keynes, The Open University


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Biopsychosocial model was introduced by American Psychiatrist, George Engel in year 1977. The biopsychosocial model generally accounts of biological, psychological and sociological which are interrelated spectrums. Today, this model was widely used as a solving problem in clinician practice.

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