How to Handle Misdiagnosis of a Mental Health Issue

There is no chemical identifier for most mental illnesses.

Instead, a doctor has to match the patient’s experiences as closely as possible to a limited set of known signs and symptoms.

This can lead quickly to misdiagnosis. Also leading to the potential for misdiagnosis is the tendency for mental illnesses to present with other mental illnesses.

Sometimes, people seek help for negative symptoms but not for the ones that feel good or help them to be productive. A 2012 study found 85 percent of 706 sufferers received a delayed diagnosis, often due to an initial misdiagnosis of their condition.

In 2009, over half of 50,000 people suffering from depression were incorrectly diagnosed the first time. Research from 2008 found 57 percent of adults with a bipolar disorder diagnosis did not actually have the condition.

Having a mental health issue misdiagnosed can lead you to start undergoing improper treatment, potentially causing even greater harm than no treatment at all.

It can cause uncontrollable and inexplicable mood swings or a general overall feeling of discontentment. A misdiagnosis can also make you feel like your life is on hold and cause you can lose hope. The solution is getting the proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Research Your Diagnosis

Look up the type of mental health condition with which you were diagnosed. What are the described signs and symptoms? Search credible medical journals for your answers.

Compare what you read about the illness to your own mental health experiences. How much of what you are reading resonates with your experience?

Commonly Misdiagnosed Mental Health Issues

Because of such similarities in their signs and symptoms, several mental health issues are commonly misdiagnosed. If you received any of the following diagnoses, then your suspicions that your issue was misdiagnosed may be wellfounded.

Anxiety is the single most prevalent mental health issue in the country, 18 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder. So many people fail to recognize their condition as a mental health issue or illness.

Therefore, the most common misdiagnosis for anxiety disorder is no diagnosis at all, leaving many people with genuine mental health issues untreated. Depending on the symptoms experienced, anxiety may sometimes be misdiagnosed as insomnia or depression.

Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavior disorder most prevalently diagnosed in children younger than 18 years of age, ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety.

According to research in 2006, nearly 70 percent of patients suffering from bipolar disorder were misdiagnosed initially, and over a third stay misdiagnosed for a decade or longer.

Depression is the most common misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, unless the patient experience insomnia and restlessness, in which case the common misdiagnosis is ADHD.

The symptoms of borderline personality disorder are similar to those of many other mood and personality disorders, but the most common misdiagnosis for this condition is bipolar disorder.

It may sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression, ADHD or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well.

One of the common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is anxiety, hence making anxiety a common PTSD misdiagnosis. In addition, symptoms of emotional numbness, insomnia and risky behavior mimic signs of other mental illnesses as well.


You do not have to have a medical degree to answer the questions asked in a typical online mental illness assessment. Your therapist or other mental health care provider may also be able to provide you with such a questionnaire or assessment.

Just be certain any mental illness assessment you choose to take is from a credible source.

Remember, your own ability to maintain a clear perspective may be affected by the very condition for which you are seeking a diagnosis. Therefore, do not just rely on your own assessments of your condition.

Plenty of psychiatrists offer comprehensive psychological assessments using the most advanced diagnostic tools. Whenever you can, let your family members participate in the assessment process so they can contribute their observations of your behavior and emotional history.

In the same way, the medical experts understand mental health issues better than you can, the people closest to you know you in ways you may not always be privy to yourself.

Requesting the input and feedback from those who know and love you most about your diagnosis or misdiagnosis can you help you more objectively hone in on your condition.

Present Your Findings to Your Doctor

Return to the doctor who gave you the initial diagnosis and present your findings to him or her. It is possible your doctor may run some subsequent tests based on your findings.

Alternatively, he or she may explain why the diagnosis you identified does not apply to you and why his or her original diagnosis does. However, you must also trust your own feelings in this matter, and if you are still unsatisfied, then it may be time to seek another’s opinion.

Seek Out a Second Opinion

Depending on how your original doctor reacted to your findings, you may want to explore getting a second opinion from another physician as well. If your physician diagnosed you, then seek a second opinion from a specialist.

If a specialist diagnosed you, then find another specialist, ideally from a different practice network.

When you seek a mental health specialist for a second opinion, try to find one with whom you feel a sense of rapport. You must feel safe and connected with a mental health professional in order to feel comfortable fully opening up to him or her about your experiences.

Part of this may include a comprehension of and sensitivity to cultural issues affecting you so as not to interfere with your proper diagnosis. Mental health concerns can often be embarrassing, shameful and hard to admit.

Find a compassionate mental health professional you can trust when disclosing your most vital information and deepest personal experiences. By doing so, you will have the greatest likelihood of your second diagnosis being the correct one.

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