Monday, September 29, 2014

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Several people have approached me in various ways with concerns about whether or not they could have bipolar disorder. I cannot give much advice other than to suggest that they check the symptoms on a reputable website. If after further research they still believe that they may have bipolar disorder, I encourage them to make an appointment with a mental health professional to get an official diagnosis. It is best if you arrive at the consultation with an understanding of bipolar disorder in order to know what questions you should ask.

Using diagnostic criteria, it is difficult to accurately diagnose bipolar disorder (Statistic Brain, 2014). Individuals with bipolar disorder will be misdiagnosed at least 70% of the time (Depression and Bipolar SupportAlliance, n.d.). Individuals with the disorder can spend up to ten years coping with symptoms before getting an accurate diagnosis. Of those people, only 25% will receive a right diagnosis in less than three years.

In the medical setting, studies suggest that 10-25% of individuals diagnosed with unipolar depression may have bipolar disorder (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, n.d.). A higher incidence is found in the psychiatric setting. Due to the fact that patients are more likely to seek professional help during periods of bipolar depression, these individuals are often diagnosed with unipolar depression. Incorrect treatment for bipolar disorder can lead to drug therapy that can cause negative effects in people with bipolar disorder.  For example, antidepressants can worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder, possibly causing a manic episode. 

Mood disorders are classified into two separate categories, unipolar and bipolar disorders (University of Maryland Medical Center, n.d.). Although they are both considered to be mood disorders, they are different illnesses. It is necessary to have both depressive and manic phases in order to have bipolar disorder. Individuals who experience unipolar disorder exhibit depressive symptoms, but never experience the highs of mania. A person with bipolar disorder experiences mood swings between the lows of depression and the highs of mania with normal periods of mood in between. Bipolar disorder is divided into two main subtypes. Bipolar I is the most extreme type compared to Bipolar II which is less severe. 

(Hubpages, 2012)

People without bipolar disorder do not exhibit the exaggerated mood swings associated with the illness (National Alliance of Mental Illness, 2008). The moods of these individuals remain relatively stable within the normal range. People who have undiagnosed bipolar disorder may believe that they have occasional episodes of depression. They do not realize that the period of time when they are not exhibiting the symptoms of depression, there is the possibility that they may actually be experiencing the normal stage of mood between depression and mania or be in a manic stage. 

When I stepped into a psychiatrist office for a consultation, one of the first things that I mentioned to her was that I believed that I had bipolar disorder. She was able to ask me questions specific to the disorder to evaluate whether or not I was right. Some people tell me that because of my knowledge about the disorder and its symptoms I might have inadvertently given the doctor the answers that she wanted to hear, therefore, I received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In my case, I do not believe that is true.
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