The Fad Mental Health Diagnosis of 2019

The Fad Mental Health Diagnosis of 2019

In the field of psychiatry, there seems to be a new “diagnosis du jour.” A rising number of people are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar spectrum disorder (BSD). Up until the year 2000, bipolar disorder (formerly referred to as manic-depressive illness) was diagnosed at a rate that hovered around 0.4%-1.6%. By the 2000s, that number jumped to 5%-7%. These days, it’s reached fad status.

Many people walk into a psychiatrist’s office and say, “I’m bipolar” or they’ve been diagnosed with the condition. But there’s a problem—many of them don’t actually have the disorder, which is associated with dramatic swings in moods and energy levels that repeat in a cyclical pattern. A 2008 study found that 57% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder had been misdiagnosed.

That’s what happened to Jessica. She was dealing with severe moodiness and after a 10-minute visit with her primary care physician, was diagnosed with the condition and given a prescription for mood stabilizers. But the medication wasn’t working. A functional brain scan using SPECT technology showed why. Jessica was suffering from the lasting effects of concussions she suffered from multiple bicycle accidents. She didn’t have bipolar disorder; she had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that needed healing. With the right treatment plan, her moods improved, and she started feeling like her old self again.

7 Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder

  • TBI: Head injuries can cause symptoms of depression, irritability, fatigue, and changes in sleep patterns—all things that can also be seen in people with BSD.
  • Depression: Persistent sadness, loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, and decreased energy are seen in both depression and in the depressive episodes of BSD. Because of this, it’s common for depression and bipolar disorder to be mistaken for the other.
  • ADD/ADHD: The manic episodes of bipolar disorder and ADD/ADHD have many common symptoms, including impulsivity, racing thoughts, restlessness, trouble concentrating, and irritability.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):The feelings of hypervigilance, irritability, and sleep issues found in PTSD can mimic the symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder, leading to misdiagnosis.
  • Anxiety: The racing thoughts, heart palpitations, and trouble sleeping that can come with anxiety are also signs of manic episodes of BSD.
  • Schizophrenia:About half of all people with bipolar disorder experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, which are hallmarks of schizophrenia. For this reason and because bipolar disorder is more common in the U.S.—about 2.8% of adults are affected by bipolar disorder compared with just 1% who have schizophrenia—people with schizophrenia are more likely to be misdiagnosed.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Common traits seen in both BPD and bipolar disorder include unstable moods, impulsivity, irritability, and relationship troubles. This leads to an overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. Research shows that 40% of people with BPD had previously been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The Consequences of a Bipolar Disorder Misdiagnosis

Being mistakenly diagnosed with bipolar disorder is problematic because the treatments for it typically won’t work to heal other conditions and could make them worse. Some people who have been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder spend years going from one mood-stabilizing medication to another without relief. This can increase the risk of alcohol and drug abuse as a way to self-medicate and also raises the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

The Path to an Accurate Diagnosis

Because there are so many overlapping symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and other conditions, simply assessing symptom clusters isn’t enough to make an accurate diagnosis. Functional brain imaging studies using a technology called SPECT can help accurately distinguish brain patterns associated with bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, depression, TBI, and other conditions.

At Amen Clinics, we use leading-edge brain imaging technology called SPECT as part of an overall evaluation to accurately diagnose and treat mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treatment isn’t working, it’s important to understand if you have been misdiagnosed. Getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to finding the relief you want from your symptoms, so don’t hesitate to schedule a visit or call to speak to a specialist at 888-288-9834.


  1. Wha is your opinion of biodentical hormones?

    What causes severe acne in a 12 or 13 year old?

    Comment by Joyce Lynch — September 16, 2019 @ 5:11 AM

  2. Joyce,

    Put the teen on a really good probiotic. Do a little research, and try it.

    Comment by Connie H — September 25, 2019 @ 6:53 AM

  3. I have felt that many PTSD patients have been wrongly diagnosed with bipolar. Especially PTSD with sexual assaults. So much dysregulation Numbing depressing. Anxiety. Losing control. Etc. that should be a number one question on intake. Have you experienced traumatic event such as sexy assault
    Rape trauma is very complex and takes years of therapy

    Comment by betty santin — October 9, 2019 @ 2:14 AM

  4. I can say that the scans helped me get the correct diagnosis of bipolar. I had been receiving treatment for depression for 5 years. I finally realized I was not getting any better. My life turned around on a dime when I started the correct treatment.

    I went back for a follow-up scan in January. My meds suddenly stopped working. I am very disappointed and disheartened with that experience. I was rushed in and out by the Dr. I was given horrible advise on treatment because of rushing things. I expected the same level of professionalism as I received on my first visit. I will not be back for another scan.

    Comment by Jeff — October 9, 2019 @ 2:29 AM

  5. Hey Jeff
    Start looking for causes not diagnosis- depression and bipolar are diagnosis
    The most likely cause which is missed by most is subacute and chronic exposure to mold mycotoxins in living areas where you do not know it’s there. I suggest you look at surviving mold .com or paradigm and good luck

    Comment by Dew — October 9, 2019 @ 4:33 AM

  6. In my opinion, just going to a medical doctor is not going to be sufficient. In conjunction with an MD one needs to seek mental health professionals as well. If your PCP gets offended find another one because they should have your complete health in mind. Although counseling therapist can not diagnose or prescribe medication they can educate you and help you navigate conversations with your MD to get the best care you deserve.
    Honestly, would you go to a cardiologist if you needed brain surgery?

    Comment by Lauran — October 9, 2019 @ 4:41 AM

  7. True symptoms of mania can serve as differential diagnosis for bipolar I. Before I found the right combination of medicine, I was prone to risky behaviors such as uncharacteristic sexual activity and excessive shopping. I once went eleven days without sleeping and have spent time in an inpatient facility. I’m not saying all bipolar patients have a case as severe as mine, but if there are no manic behaviors, it’s not bipolar.

    Comment by Edward Millican — October 9, 2019 @ 5:29 AM

  8. My best friend was misdiagnosed bipolar when she was actually borderline. She wasn’t properly diagnosed until after her 13th suicide attempt, and then she died with her 14th attempt in 2014. I learned about SPECT imaging in 2008 and begged her to get scanned, but she wouldn’t do it. I think she might be alive today if she had gotten a scan and been properly diagnosed sooner. The bipolar meds and therapies made things worse and are part of what killed her.

    Comment by Jenni — October 9, 2019 @ 6:16 AM

  9. Why is psychosis so difficult to diagnose and to not diagnose? I have a hyper sensitivity to low frequency sound which gets diagnosed as psychosis. It’s probably connected to a lot of other reasons which caused my inner ear to have problems: Anorexia, Malnutrition, PTSD from dealing with a suicidal mother, 10 years of orthodonture, 2 ear lancings, practicing music for hours a day. If I tell a shrink this stuff they just say that these are symptoms of my delusions.

    But, when I say I have a hyper sensitivity to low frequency sound the response I get from practitioners is “Does the TV talk to you?”

    Comment by baj — October 9, 2019 @ 5:21 PM

  10. 18 yrs in the mental health industry…drugged to the hilt with a schizoeffective diagnosis….so many real questions never asked. also developed full blown Parkinsons with dementia before age 45, now 55 …..all the “Nevers” thrown at me. wish Id known about your work, maybe I would not have lost so much of my youth. I went with gut health and alternative neaural pathway treatments, thankyou internet. But what a rabbit warren going by yourself is. Keep up the good work!
    Kind regards, Rose

    Comment by Rose Harvey — October 9, 2019 @ 9:20 PM

  11. If your child has severe acne and you’ve seen their pediatrician who diagnosed “puberty acne” ” bacterial acne” “teen acne”and you’ve followed through filling countries tubes of antibacterial creams to no avail you must look for a will established dermatologist who will properly diagnose and treat fungal acne. We all have fungus, bacteria n parasites living in and on our bodies. However, if it becomes out of balance your child must likely has “tinea/final acne”! It will never go away without proper treatment of topical n oral antifungals.

    Comment by Laurie Yaukey — October 16, 2019 @ 3:57 PM

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