Accurately identifying a type of mental health condition is an extremely meticulous and arduous task for not only patients but clinicians and other professionals as well. Many different disorders can be exhibited in similar ways. For example, a person who is exhibiting excessively stressed and on-edge behavior may be doing so due to an anxiety disorder or because of paranoia associated with schizophrenia. The chronic use and addiction to various substances can also mimic characteristics of other disorders. Matters get even more muddled in the case of multiple mental illnesses, as diagnosing an underlying problem is combined with the challenge of separating one’s disorder symptoms from another’s.
Due to all of these observational obstacles, receiving a correct and accurate diagnosis is becoming an unshakeable challenge for those in the mental health world. Especially as the rates of new disorders, co-occurring disorders and individuals seeking help for their respective conditions continues to increase, incorrectly classifying these conditions will impact larger populations with time. According to a study by clinical psychologist Dr. Ora Nakash at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, the statistical occurrence of misdiagnosis is shown to be twice as likely for socially disadvantaged groups (Nakash & Saguy, 2015).
Factors influencing misdiagnosis
Current research explores how therapists factor in social identities in their diagnosis precision. With Nakash’s colleague Tamar Saguy, both researchers sought out to evaluate the methodologies used within community mental health clinics in large and local cities that serve mostly low- to middle-class demographics. The study focused on the culturally clashing encounters of people within the treatment realm. Dr. Nakash detailed, “A white therapist can interpret affect dysregulation symptoms of a client who is also white as rooted in financial pressures and diagnose him or her as having transient adjustment disorder… Conversely, if the client is African American, the same symptoms might be seen as proof of the client’s persistent borderline personality disorder.”(Nakash & Saguy, 2015)
Children are also at-risk for being misdiagnosed. For instance, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has made significant changes to its classifications of mood and bipolar disorders, specifically adding disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which refers to the presentation of consistent irritability and unmanageable outbursts during childhood. This addition was made solely to better predict and define the development of depressive disorders rather than manic-depressive disorder later in life. According to one of the latest compilations of evidence found by the Child Mind Institute, many other psychiatric disorders developed during years of maturation have common go-to classifications, while also having overlooked possibilities.
For example, inattention is typically diagnosed as a consequence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when there could actually be other reasons the child could be exhibiting this problem including erratic thinking patterns tied to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, disruptive behavior can be easily assumed to be a factor of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) but can also be explained by the stressful outburst of anxiety disorders or an underlying learning disorder. Repetitive thoughts, restricted speech and even sadness can be linked to multiple conditions.
The common ground that this collection of information highlights should inspire physicians of all different disciplines to spend extra time with their patients in order to give a complete and comprehensive assessment. Especially for younger patients, making the correct diagnosis the first time can help a person avoid failed treatments and misguided therapy sessions.
The ramifications of being misdiagnosed can be immense depending on the specific case. Complications can include having an unchecked condition run rampant and fuel another medical problem or being prescribed medication for a condition one does not have, which can result in further disruption and dysfunction. Even worse, an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed issue that a person is unable to deal with can lead to drug or alcohol abuse in the long run.
Caregivers must be careful not to mistake symptoms as causes rather than correlations and rely on only one source of information for a diagnosis. Most importantly, those seeking a mental health diagnosis and treatment must play an active role and cooperate with their doctor or therapist. This can be done by describing each symptom, giving a complete medical history, giving details of the current condition and current habits such as drug use and providing a list of prescribed medications (mentalillnesspolicy.org).
When an individual seeks help for mental health circumstances, that individual should not need to worry about an incorrect or inaccurate diagnosis. The mental health centers and facilities connected with California Dual Diagnosis Helpline not only detail a client’s particular condition to a fine degree, they also unmask any additional disorders that could be fueling further stress and strain. If you or a loved one requires a full, in-depth diagnosis, please contact our consultants online or call 855-980-1736.