Bipolar Disorder and Misdiagnosis
When someone is suffering from symptoms of a mental illness it can often be complex and difficult to identify their specific issues. Many disorders can have similar signs and symptoms and can cross over into one another. For example symptoms of depression or anxiety can occur in a number of other illnesses as part of a greater disorder.
With illnesses such as bipolar disorder, it can often take a number of years for people to get an accurate diagnosis because it is such a complicated and sometimes misunderstood illness. When someone with bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed, they end up receiving ineffective treatment and their symptoms may begin to worsen. Misdiagnosis can be disastrous for those who are already suffering from a debilitating psychiatric illness.
Unfortunately, arriving at a diagnosis of having bipolar disorder can be a difficult endeavor because people in the medical field may misinterpret symptoms. There are not yet any biologically based tests that could result in a definitive diagnosis and genetic testing is not yet at the point where it could reliably predict the presence of the disorder. Psychiatrists must diagnosis patients based on their observations when speaking to them and assessing their mental health.
A clinical interview with extensive inquiry along with consideration of as much data as possible is the only way to diagnose a patient with bipolar disorder. However, even a very thorough evaluation performed by a seasoned mental health expert can lead to a misdiagnosis. Frustratingly for many people, the average time between the initial onset of symptoms and an accurate bipolar diagnosis is as much as ten to twelve years.
Why Bipolar Disorder is Difficult to Diagnose
Bipolar disorder is a complex issue and it is often misdiagnosed for a number of different reasons. One of the reasons that it is hard to diagnose bipolar disorder is that it has to do with broad patterns that exist over a long period of time rather than individual symptoms that a person might currently be experiencing. A patient’s mood in the present may indicate that they are in state that is temporary and may change within a few months or even years.
People with bipolar disorder have different patterns of mood and behavior that can vary dramatically depending on when they are interviewed. They may go through months and months of severe depression followed by episodes of mania. Their symptoms can vary in duration and in the way they manifest through different episodes.
Bipolar disorder is also hard to diagnose because it often coexists with other psychiatric illnesses so that people experience a layering of different symptoms from other disorders. It can be challenging for a mental health professional to sort out the various symptoms that the patient is experiencing and how they are related to specific disorders. The symptoms the patient has may also frequently change, making it even harder to pinpoint their exact issues.
Most Common Misdiagnosis
There are certain mental illnesses which are most often confused with bipolar disorder or tend to coexist with it in one individual. The most common is unipolar or clinical depression which is only one component of a person’s bipolar symptoms. Because people who are bipolar experience long periods of depression and often shorter mania episodes, their psychiatrist may diagnose them with depression and fail to recognize their issues with mania.
When someone with bipolar disorder is thought to have depression alone, they may not be getting the proper treatment to deal with their manic symptoms which can wreak as much havoc on their lives as their depression. They may engage in risky or impulsive behavior during a manic episode and not know how to manage their own actions. Their mania can cause a lot of negative repercussions if it is not treated properly.
One the other hand people with bipolar disorder may be misdiagnosed during a period of mania as having attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder. If they have racing thoughts, excess energy and trouble focusing during their manic episode a psychiatrist may believe that they have ADHD. Although they may appear to have some of the symptoms of ADHD, these symptoms will shift when they enter an episode of depression.
People with bipolar disorder are also sometimes misdiagnosed as having personality disorders such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Some of the characteristics of these disorders may seem similar to what a bipolar person exhibits at certain points in their life.
It is important for someone with a mental illness to receive an accurate diagnosis in order to get the treatment they need to minimize their symptoms. It can be difficult to recover if you are not receiving the right medication and the best therapy for your specific disorder. If you think you might have been misdiagnosed, seek a second and even a third opinion from a mental health professional.