Although we’re learning more about mental illness all the time, brains are extremely complex and there is still much we don’t understand about how they work and what can go wrong. What’s more, everyone is different and symptoms often present differently in different people. These differences can be related to age, sex, culture, background, and probably many factors we haven’t yet identified. As a result, diagnosing a mental illness is not an exact science. It often takes some trial and error to get it right. In the meantime, a misdiagnosis can actually make the problem worse. Here are some mental health issues that are commonly misdiagnosed.
The main symptoms of ADHD are inability to concentrate, restlessness, jumping from one subject to another, and engaging in disruptive or reckless behavior. In children, these symptoms draw an almost automatic diagnosis of ADHD. Indeed, many children are diagnosed with ADHD when they’re struggling with something else entirely, perhaps a mood disorder, anxiety, or an autism spectrum disorder. However, in adults, ADHD may be harder to spot. Adults with undiagnosed ADHD often learn to rein in their behavior, but they may still suffer from racing thoughts and poor concentration. The mood swings, racing thoughts, and sleep troubles often resemble a manic episode and may draw a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, the medication for bipolar disorder won’t’ do much for ADHD.
Just as ADHD is sometimes mistaken for a manic episode of bipolar disorder, sometimes a manic episode is mistaken for ADHD. This kind of misdiagnosis is perhaps even worse because prescribing a stimulant to someone with bipolar might cause a manic episode or make it worse. However, the more common misdiagnosis is mistaking bipolar disorder for depression. As many as 70 percent of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder were originally misdiagnosed with depression. This is especially common in women, whose manic episodes are typically less severe than men’s. A depressive episode of bipolar disorder looks exactly like major depression and unless the patient reports having manic episodes, the doctor has no reason to suspect the less common bipolar disorder. The SSRIs typically prescribed for depression may cause a manic episode in someone with bipolar unless it is paired with a mood stabilizer.
Borderline personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder has several symptoms that appear similar to ADHD and bipolar disorder. These symptoms include mood swings and impulsive behavior. It’s especially likely that borderline personality disorder will be misdiagnosed in men. Although experts believe borderline personality disorder affects men and women equally, it is only diagnosed about half as often in men.
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