Misdiagnosed? You’re not alone…

It never occurred to me that I could be misdiagnosed with a mental illness. I knew that there was something “not normal” about the way my mind worked, but I had complete faith in the medical world of America because that’s how I was raised. I didn’t think that I would be treated for a mental illness that I didn’t have for years until now. Suddenly, everything made sense to me because nothing worked for me throughout all those years. My diagnosis finally came back as BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and not Bipolar II. I still experience episodes but they are always so quick that it’s like a light switch, but no wonder I felt so completely off whenever they put me on meds. Every single medication was horrible to me, I never felt happy. I never felt like me. But let’s take a look how the impact that this has lives. Let’s see how common a mental illness misdiagnosis is and how we can bring more awareness to the lazy shortcuts that doctors take.

How Common is a Misdiagnosis

A misdiagnosis can happen with any condition, psychological or medical. Here’s the top 3 misdiagnosed disorders.

ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

A little more than 6% of children in the United States are medicated for ADHD. Symptoms of ADHD can also be seen in other conditions though. Children could be suffering from a sensory processing disorder (SPD) which can present itself though heightened sensitivity to sound, sight, touch, or other sensory inputs. Fidgeting and difficulty to focus could be a type of anxiety. ADHD is also estimated to co-occur with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) anywhere from 37% to 78% of the time.

Something that I personally learned is that most abusive parents will manipulate their children into masking their full symptoms to the doctor due to fear of losing their children if they speak out about why they feel a certain way as well. I personally experienced this myself, which led to being inaccurately diagnosed as a child.


Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): 7.1% of adults have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. A study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that more than 60% of people who receive this diagnosis don’t actually have it.

The study observed that more than 5,600 patients who received a depression diagnosis in a non-hospital setting. Researchers judged that only 38.4% have received the correct diagnosis but nearly 75% reported they were using prescription medication for their symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder

This disorder is less commonly diagnosed than anxiety and depression, and some doctors steer away from the diagnosis altogether. However, a misdiagnosis can be significantly more disruptive, especially due to the medications that are usually prescribed when diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Only 2.8% of people get diagnosed with bipolar disorder, whether it’s accurate or not. It is actually much more common to be diagnoses with bipolar disorder when they don’t actually have it. Bipolar Disorder is actually one of the most commonly confused with Borderline Personality Disorder due to the intense mood swings that are involved.

Effects of Misdiagnosis

Usually the first step after finding a diagnosis is to find the correct path of treatment, but with a misdiagnosis, that delays any progress. The consequences of a misdiagnosis can be devastating, even life-changing.

1. Confusion

Patients who are misdiagnosed usually end up distraught and frustrated because their path of treatment seems to not be helping, and in some cases, it’s worse than it was before they started treatment. This can lead to the patient feeling guilty or shameful, possibly resulting in a breakdown.

2. Incorrect Medication

This can be very dangerous. As we should know, if you take a medication that you don’t actually need, it can cause serious problems mentally or physically. Taking ADHD meds such as Adderall or Concerta when you don’t actually have it can result in impairments in working memory performance and other areas of performance. Receiving the wrong medication can result in all the side effects without any of the benefits that the doctor thought you would be getting. This can causes more issues while not addressing the issues at hand.

In my personal experience, I’ve been on nearly every medication on the market for depression, anxiety, insomnia, bipolar disorder- you name it. When I was first diagnosed with certain mental illnesses at 18, my psychiatrist loaded me up on like 5-6 different medications and every two weeks I would go to her and have more issues, which now I know was most likely caused by a misdiagnosis. In the last 6-7 years, after being diagnoses with Bipolar II, I noticed a slight improvement in my problems but once they started me on mood stabilizers, I could tell that they made me a zombie. They made me more disconnected from reality and I ended up having more anger, more insomnia; my breakdowns were often and more explosive. But after I weaned myself off of meds (before my BPD diagnosis), I noticed that I felt more in tune. I started going to therapy and realizing that I had more success controlling my symptoms through other measures than loading up mood stabilizers and feeling like a zombie.

3. Worsening Condition

As I highlighted in my personal situation right before this, by getting misdiagnoses, it results in a worsening condition. If you are misdiagnosed with depression, you would be placed on an antidepressant (usually an SSRI) which takes months for to be able to stabilize the serotonin, so essentially the doctor won’t pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re literally getting worse by the day.

Why Does It Happen?

I’m not saying that all doctors are incompetent, but incompetency does play a huge role in being misdiagnosed. However, other factors can complicate the situation as well.

1. Patient History

Mental health clinicians rely exclusively on reported symptoms and patient history. Because of this, clinicians are more likely to come to incorrect conclusions without sufficient information. Patients are not always willing to talk about substance abuse or childhood trauma, and they may not understand how crucial they are to the formation of a correct diagnosis. Sometimes, they may not feel like their experiences and emotional states are worth speaking about.

2. Masking Symptoms

A good clinician doesn’t look at the patient’s list of symptoms and see what diagnosis best fits those parameters. They must consider all possible factors, rather than putting a band-aid on symptoms with a hasty, incomplete diagnosis.

3. Multiple Diagnoses

It’s very common that a physical health disorder can be misdiagnoses for a mental illness. Someone who is chronically fatigued can be diagnoses with depression when it’s actually hypothyroidism. Alternatively, someone who was diagnoses with Bipolar Disorder initially, might actually have Borderline Personality Disorder due to the severe and intense emotions that are associated with both.

How to Prevent Misdiagnosis

1. Be open and honest

Be transparent with your doctor. Don’t hide anything, even if it seems small. Every detail matters and be life-changing.

2. Create a Record

Keep a daily or weekly journal of symptoms or behaviors. Sometimes this can be overwhelming to keep it super detailed, but the point that you can highlight everything that you feel in a given day or week, so that way the doctor can be able to differentiate the patterns. It doesn’t have to be official, just thorough enough that there can be a pattern that can be read. This is very important, especially when trying to figure out if you have Bipolar Disorder (where episodes are usually longer term, manic for weeks, depressed for weeks) or Borderline Personality Disorder (where episodes are quick and usually happen many times a day, like a flip of a switch).

3. See a Specialist

It’s important to see someone who specializes in certain disorders, because they are specifically trained to be able to differentiate from the different mental illnesses or disorders.

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