Prognosis and Diagnosis in Mental Health

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The term prognosis refers to making an educated guess about the expected outcome of any kind of health treatment, including mental health, in essence making a prediction of the process an individual may have to go through in order to heal, and the extent of healing expected to take place.

A prognosis is like a prediction of how the diagnosis will affect you. What's likely to happen in the future.

What Is a Prognosis in Mental Health?

When making a prognosis, your doctors are trying to predict your chance of

  • Complications and associated health issues
  • Recovery
  • Recurrence
  • Survival

They are also trying to determine how your mental health condition will affect your quality of life.

Use diagnosis for an ID of someone's current condition

Use prognosis for that condition's implications for future health

People often confuse the terms prognosis and diagnosis. The difference between the two is that while a prognosis is a guess as to the outcome of treatment, a diagnosis is actually identifying the problem and giving it a name

Simply put, a prognosis is a prediction, whereas a diagnosis states what's already there.

How a Prognosis Is Determined

may also ask if there are any characteristics of the patient that make it more likely that they will have a particularly good or bad outcome. 

Several factors can affect a person's prognosis. These factors include:

  • Age at onset:
  • Gender
  • Medical history and possible comorbidities
  • Mental health history
  • Family medical and mental health history: Typically if no one in your immediate biological family has the condition
  • Type and severity of symptoms: acute onset predicts a better prognosis than if your symptoms a gradual.
  • Particular symptoms and how long they have been present
  • Treatment or treatments used
  • Response to treatment
  • Support system:
  • acute onset typically predicts a better prognosis.

Let's use schizophrenia as an example.

Types of Prognoses

The following categories of prognoses are typically used:

  • Excellent:
  • Good: Implies that
  • Fair:
  • Poor:
  • Guarded: A mental health professional may use this term when they don't have enough information to predict the outcome.

Why Prognosis Is Important

A prognosis can give you some idea of what treatment strategies or options are available.

Prognosis may be given before any treatment is undertaken, so that the patient or client can weigh the benefits of different treatment options.

Factors That Affect Prognosis

Different factors can affect the prognosis of each individual. These factors include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Medical and/or family history
  • How the disease or disorder is presenting
  • Response to treatment
  • Particular symptoms and how long they have been present
  • Whether or not there are other illnesses or conditions present
  • What treatment or treatments are being used

A Word From Verywell

Everyone is different, and prognoses are just educated guesses. They are not guaranteed outcomes. Working with a trusted physician and/or therapist can help you or your loved one manage your mental health condition.

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  1. Patton GC, Coffey C, Romaniuk H, et al. The prognosis of common mental disorders in adolescents: a 14-year prospective cohort study. Lancet. 2014;383(9926):1404-1411. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62116-9