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.