What is a Prognosis?

Understanding What a Prognosis is For

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The term prognosis refers to making an educated guess about the expected outcome of mental health treatment, a prediction of the process a teen may have to go through in order to heal, and the extent of healing expected to take place. Prognosis is a medical term used in treatment settings based on a medical model, or when a teen is being treated for a mental health disorder, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Why a Prognosis is Important

A prognosis is based on a number of factors to include the type of problem your teen is struggling with, the duration of the problem, your teen's personal strengths and weaknesses, and the availability of support systems.

Parents may hear this term used in the early stages of therapy or entry into a treatment program. For example, a psychiatrist might say the prognosis for a specific teen suffering from depression is good since the teen is motivated to stick with a program of medication and psychotherapy and has strong family support.

Discussing the anticipated prognosis for a troubled teen is a way to look realistically at the question most parents worry about: Will my teen get better? Ask about the prognosis for your teen if this information is not initially provided.

The Difference Between Prognosis and Diagnosis

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, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder

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

Mental Health in Teens

Because the body and the mind are so intricately connected, mental illness can take a toll on your teen's physical health too and the two can play off of each other. That's why it's so important to get your teen help if you think there is a problem. Early intervention gives your teen the best chance of recovery.

Treating Mental Illnesses in Teens

Fortunately, mental illnesses are very treatable and manageable with medication, psychotherapy, education and/or other resources. It's important to work closely with your mental health professional to create the best individual treatment plan for your teen.

Who Gets Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, religion, income level or ethnicity.

It is estimated that 1 in 5 children under the age of 18 has a mental illness. 

Parents, Take Care of Yourselves Too

If you are the parent of a teen with some sort of mental illness, you know how difficult it can be to remain supportive, positive and to have time to meet your own needs. Like the demonstration given on airplanes about putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can then help others, you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you can help your teen to the best of your ability. Consider joining a support group for parents or getting individual therapy for yourself. Make sure you get out to do fun activities on a regular basis. Treat yourself kindly. 


Geddes, John, M.D. "Answering clinical questions about prognosis." Evidence-Based Mental Health 3 (4), November 2000.

"Children's Mental Health." American Psychological Association (2016).

"Children's Mental Health." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016).

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