LIFE GOES ON: Misdiagnosis Of Bipolar Disorder

July 16, 2011
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UNDIAGNOSED BIPOLAR DISORDER (AKA MANIC DEPRESSIVE DISORDER)

A few months ago, Catherine Zeta Jones disclosed that she suffered from Bipolar 2 Disorder. This was a courageous act that will hopefully lessen the stigma of mental illness, but more importantly, will educate the public AND DOCTORS about the symptoms of this often-undiagnosed illness. The average person with Bipolar Disorder suffers for 8 years before receiving proper diagnosis and medication.  They typically see 5 doctors before getting real help. Here are 3 typical scenarios:

~A man finds a psychiatrist and tells him he is depressed, has insomnia and anxiety. Diagnosis: Major Depression, Sleep Disorder, and Major Anxiety Disorder. The doctor prescribes an antidepressant, a sleep aid, and a tranquilizer.

~A woman tells her psychiatrist that she has intrusive obsessive thoughts, insomnia, and an inability to concentrate. The doctor prescribes an antidepressant, a sleep aid, and medication for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

~A teenage boy gets arrested for drunk driving. He admits to smoking pot daily since age 14. He was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in the third grade. He is depressed, anxious, and has endless energy at times where he feels he can accomplish anything. Diagnosis: Substance abuse, depression, depression, and ADHD. The doctor refers him to a substance abuse program.

While these cases may seem logically treated, the doctors may have failed to screen for Bipolar Disorder. Jeff Klugman, MD, a psychiatrist out of Yale University, taught me how to screen for THE BIPOLAR SPECTRUM. It is the combination of symptoms that determines the diagnosis. Typically people think of manic depression as huge highs and lows, as portrayed by Richard Gere in the 1993 film, “Mr. Jones.” This is not true. I have seen countless patients who have been suffering needlessly for years. If I suspect Bipolar Disorder, I refer to a competent psychiatrist for confirmation, medication evaluation, and treatment.

 

THE BIPOLAR SPECTRUM includes:

DEPRESSION (mild to moderate)

INSOMNIA (can’t turn off the racing thoughts)

GRANDIOSITY (manic behavior: binging, shopping, excessive sex, no need for sleep)

RACING THOUGHTS (like having 5 thoughts in your head at all times)

SUBSTANCE ABUSE (drugs, alcohol, food)

ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER (inability to focus and concentrate)

OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS (intrusive unpleasant thoughts)

 

When these symptoms coincide, the diagnosis is most likely a mood disorder. It is the combination of symptoms that suggests it is a mood disorder. Bipolar 2 Disorder looks like depression because there is no real manic behavior. It is the most difficult to diagnosis.

Once a competent well-trained psychiatrist has made a diagnosis, the medication will be a mood stabilizer such as Lamictal or Lithium.
With an accurate diagnosis, there will be accurate medication and psychological support. I urge everyone to learn more about this disorder. Maybe you know someone who has never been able to find the right doctor or the right diagnosis or the right medication. Maybe it’s you. This could be why.

LIFE GOES ON©

Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.”  You may email her at kathleen.cairns@mac.com and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.

www.kathleencairns.com

Life goes on… and every day matters…

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5 Responses to LIFE GOES ON: Misdiagnosis Of Bipolar Disorder

  1. Anonymous on July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    This was a courageous act that will hopefully lessen the stigma of mental illness

    YOU claim a “stigma”? What a curious position to take. What is your position on rape?

    We are curious creatures, our habits extend into language.

    Harold A. Maio
    khmaio@earthlink.net

  2. Mom of Bi on July 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    As though it were that simple… Not only does getting a proper diagnosis take a long time, getting the right cocktail of medications that will dampen the symptoms with the fewest intrusions of side effects is a long journey. Six years into my daughter’s diagnosis, we are still working towards that goal. This is a terrible disease- difficult to tolerate, to diagnosis, and to treat.

  3. connie on July 20, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    seem your substituting one “pill pusher ” doctor for another ..have yet met any “sick ” person “healed ” by a psychiatrist !

  4. anonymous on July 26, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Wow…maybe the comments here are an unfortunate representation of the healthcare landscape in America, but I’m rather shocked by the opinions expressed here.

    Yes – there is a DEFINITE stigma attached to mental illness (but what exactly does this have to do with rape?!!)

    andYes – “I” am someone who has been “healed” by a psychiatrist.

    Thankyou Kathleen for presenting such balanced and honest views : )

  5. anonymous on July 26, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Wow…maybe the comments here are an unfortunate representation of the healthcare landscape in America, but I’m rather shocked by the opinions expressed here.

    Yes – there is a DEFINITE stigma attached to mental illness (but what exactly does this have to do with rape?!!)

    andYes – “I” am someone who has been “healed” by a psychiatrist.

    Thankyou Kathleen for presenting such balanced and honest views : )





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