Healthy Huskies: Co-occurring Disorders  

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A co-occurring disorder is a combination of two or more mental health diagnoses that are identified in the DSM-5. In this article, Bonilla talks more about co-occurring disorders and the various treatment options. Illustration by Steven Coleman/The Daily Campus

When people experience mental health difficulties or get mental health diagnoses, more often than not they experience co-occurring disorders. But what exactly are co-occurring disorders and how do they affect your daily life?  

A co-occurring disorder is a combination of two or more mental health diagnoses that are identified in the DSM-5. The DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a collection of all known mental health conditions. Co-occurring disorders can make the diagnoses you have much more difficult to deal with; disorders can often play off of one another, making treatment more difficult.  

For example, many people with obsessive compulsive disorder may also experience an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. A person diagnosed with bipolar I or  bipolar II may also experience a substance use disorder. While there are no specific stipulations of what exactly qualifies as a co-occurring disorder, it is widely thought that if a person has two or more mental health diagnoses they may be experiencing co-occurring disorders.  

When seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders, it is important to be upfront and honest about all your diagnoses. For example, if you are diagnosed with PTSD and experience a substance use disorder, it is important to discuss your trauma with a professional, as PTSD may be its cause.  

Many different types of therapy and treatment are used to address co-occurring disorders. CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, has been proven to help in the treatment of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and eating disorders. DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective for conditions such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder and suicidal ideation, among other illnesses. EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy can be useful to unpack trauma or phobias. Nutrition planning and counseling in conjunction with other therapeutic modules can help those who suffer from eating disorders. Family therapy can help address issues of familial stress, trauma and tension.  

Medication has also been proven to help many different disorders and mental health conditions. While medication is not for everyone, it has shown to be a useful tool in lessening the severity of symptoms a person experiences. For example, if you were to take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, for depression and anxiety, it could lessen symptoms and help your ability to work through the issue in therapy. Therapy is often only useful if you are in a good enough place mentally to begin working on the issues at hand. If you think medication may be a necessary piece in beginning your recovery from mental health issues, consider reaching out to a psychiatrist or a nurse practitioner.  

Group therapy and support groups can also be helpful in treating co-occurring disorders. Many inpatient and residential mental health treatment programs utilize the model for this reason. By talking with others who are going through the same issues as you, you can begin to realize you are not alone in your struggle. Group therapy can be very effective in treating complex diagnoses such as substance use disorders and eating disorders.  

Overall, the presence of a co-occurring mental health diagnosis may seem scary or daunting at first. But by being informed about co-occurring disorders, how they affect you and how they are treated, you may be able to start the road to recovery. If you are struggling with co-occurring diagnoses or with your mental health, you can reach out to Student Health and Wellness or visit their website for more information.  

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