If you’re prone to panic attacks, mood swings, irritability, or sadness, you may assume depression is what’s bogging you down. This isn’t necessarily the case, though. Your doctor could think more along the lines of anxiety, or you may have a family history of bipolar disorder. The last thing you want is to jump from diagnosis to diagnosis and from one medication to the next, because your mental health disorder has been misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality for many. In order to help clear up some confusion, we’re highlighting five mental health disorders that are most commonly misdiagnosed.
1. Bipolar mood disorder
Bipolar mood disorder is a tough mental health disorder to diagnose correctly because its symptoms are so similar to its distant cousin, ADHD. The hallmark symptoms of this mental illness are extreme mood swings that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few months, leaving those who have it in states of constant mania, depression, or a mix of the two, says Healthline. Those who have bipolar I have symptoms that are more severe and polarizing than those who have bipolar II. But either way, these symptoms can have a severe effect on a person’s mood, ability to maintain relationships, and the ability to be productive.
It seems like diagnosing bipolar disorder would be straightforward considering the distinctive mood swings, but attention deficit hyperactivity disorder actually has a lot of the same symptoms. Frequent outbursts, restlessness, and mood instability are characteristics of both disorders, even though ADHD is a lifelong condition that can start early. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, typically begins after age 18. Mood swings in those who have ADHD often only last 20 to 30 minutes, too, whereas bipolar individuals have mood swings lasting much longer.
In terms of medical diagnosis, bipolar mood disorder is often misdiagnosed as ADHD, especially among children and young adults.
Feeling stressed morning, noon, and night? It may be more than just stress. WebMD explains having an anxiety disorder can lead to feelings of intense panic and fear, sleep troubles, clammy hands and feet, heart palpitations, nausea, muscle tension, and dizziness. It may seem like an anxiety disorder would be easy to spot once the symptoms are listed, but actually, many doctors misdiagnose anxiety as depression, another common mental health disorder.
Depression is characterized by feeling constantly sad or hopeless, lacking interest in things that were once interesting, and thoughts of death or suicide. People who have anxiety worry about the future and what will happen, but those with depression are already sure it’s hopeless, Calm Clinic explains. Both of these conditions can seriously interfere with day-to-day activities and need to be diagnosed correctly for proper treatment.
This serious mental health disorder can affect the ability to clearly think and accomplish tasks, making school and work very difficult without treatment. Though only about 1% of Americans suffer from schizophrenia, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it’s pivotal this diagnosis be correct the first time. People who have schizophrenia typically experience hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there, and they cling to false beliefs that have little basis in reality.
While genetics almost always come into play with schizophrenia, not knowing the family history of the patient could lead doctors astray. And because schizophrenia is so uncommon, it’s easy to mistake it for something else. Cushing’s syndrome, a disease that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of stress for long periods of time, has physical symptoms that you won’t find in schizophrenia, but the mental symptoms can be shockingly similar.
Mayo Clinic explains Cushing’s syndrome comes with physical abnormalities such as purple stretch marks and a rounding of the face, but people with the condition may also experience psychosis, mania, depression, and other psychiatric disturbances. There’s a possibility one of these diseases could be mistaken for the other because of these similarities.
4. Post-traumatic stress disorder
Most people think of veterans when they hear PTSD — but there are many other people who have it as well. If a person has just experienced trauma of any kind and experiences flashbacks, horrifying recollections of what has happened, and reoccurring nightmares, it’s likely they have PTSD. This condition is also characterized by difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable, and being prone to anger, explains the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
If you believe you’re experiencing PTSD and you approach your doctor about symptoms, they may first diagnose you with generalized anxiety or depression. The traumatic event is pivotal in correctly diagnosing PTSD, for the sufferer’s anxieties, flashbacks, and fears will all surround the event. Those with PTSD also may start to develop more general feelings that look similar to other mental health disorders, such as a general feeling that the world is unsafe.
5. Borderline personality disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder is a very complex condition that affects a person’s relationship with close friends and family. Those with BPD typically have very extreme emotional reactions, are highly impulsive, and have trouble keeping relationships in any capacity. Their moods can shift quickly, and they often take part in risky behavior that can lead to danger, Arnold Lieber, M.D., writes for PsyCom.
This disorder can be very tricky to diagnose, particularly because those who have BPD often also experience anxiety and depression. While those with BPD may benefit from being treated for anxiety and depression, their relationships with others may not improve. Talk therapy can help, so this is often recommended as part of an effective treatment plan.