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What does Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) mean?

Not Otherwise Specified is a subcategory in systems of disease/disorder classification. It is used to note the presence of a condition where the symptoms presented indicate a general diagnosis within a family of disorders (e.g. depressive disorders, anxiety disorders), but don’t meet criteria established for specific diagnoses within that family. The DSM-5 has replaced NOS with either other specified disorder or unspecified disorder.

How does this affect someone's treatment?

“Unspecified” allows doctors to provide patients with the best care in emergency situations where there isn’t time to get all of the information necessary to make a formal diagnosis, but treatment is still needed.

What can someone do if they get receive NOS on their diagnosis?

Getting a “not otherwise specified” or “unspecified” diagnosis isn’t a bad/harmful thing as it doesn’t seem like it negatively impacts treatment, but it leaves room for a more accurate or in-depth diagnosis later on.

If you disagree with your diagnosis, inquire why the individual diagnosing you landed on that specification – you may be able to clarify your symptoms or experiences to get a diagnosis that feels more in line with your lived experience. If not and you still think a different diagnosis fits better, it’s valid to seek out another professional opinion – you know yourself best and are your own most powerful advocate.

How can you get treatment if your diagnosis is NOS?

Essentially the same way anyone else would seek treatment. An “other specified” or “unspecified” label doesn’t negate the diagnosis it is attached to – the best place to start is with seeking treatment for whichever family of diagnoses yours falls within.  

How can you get reimbursed for treatment (or get treatment at all) without a diagnosis?

If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis but think you need treatment, see your primary care provider. They may be able to recommend resources for undiagnosed individuals or decide that a not otherwise specified or unspecified diagnosis fits your experience.

For insurance purposes, if you do not meet full diagnostic criteria for a condition, the “other specified” label allows a provider to acknowledge a certain mental health condition is at play – for instance, a depressive episode that doesn’t have the full number of symptoms to meet the formal diagnosis.