Why is Bipolar Disorder So Difficult to Diagnose?

Sad woman on couch with counselor

One of the most challenging aspects of mental disorders is the official diagnosis; a healthcare professional can easily mistake one disorder for another and for a variety of reasons. As emphasized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), bipolar disorder (BPD) is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health conditions. An estimated 2-6% of the population has BPD, but there are many reasons why it gets misdiagnosed:

  • Stigma, whether perpetuated by society or by mental health professionals, can cause a person to delay or avoid treatment altogether
  • Misinformed conceptions such as the one that teenagers can’t have BPD prevents teens who do have the disorder from obtaining the treatment they so richly deserve
  • Unfortunately, some mental health professionals out there believe that BPD is untreatable; this leads them to diagnose a person with something else, even if they meet all criteria for BPD
  • When it comes to BPD, there is another common misconception that only women can have it – leading to an extreme gap between the number of women and men who are diagnosed with the disorder
  • The symptoms of BPD can easily be mistaken for another mental disorder. For example, many people with BPD also meet criteria for disorders such as:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Substance use disorders
    • Eating disorders

BPD may involve a variety of symptoms, including impulsive behavior, intense emotions, suicidal thinking, emotion dysregulation, and more. These symptoms and others can easily be classified under another disorder, making it more difficult for a person who truly has BPD to seek the help they need. What can you do to reduce your chances of receiving an inaccurate diagnosis?

Seek help from a licensed, experienced healthcare professional with a proven track record of excellence. Be honest about all your symptoms and experiences – don’t leave anything out just because you feel shy or embarrassed. Keep a journal if you can that provides details to your symptoms – this will greatly help your psychiatrist in your diagnosis. Lastly, don’t give up. If you’ve received a diagnosis and it doesn’t seem accurate, seek out a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with ensuring accuracy.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, contact us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.




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