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The dangers of a mental health misdiagnosis

Mental illness is a serious problems for Americans. Around one out of every 25 people in the country suffers from a severe mental condition in any given year.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets the help that they need. Mental diseases like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe clinical depression can be easily misdiagnosed or missed entirely.

For example, studies have indicated that general practitioners misdiagnosed people with depression quite often. Over half of the people they diagnose with depression don't actually have the disorder.

On the other hand, bipolar patients often struggle to get an accurate diagnosis for up to seven years. Some go undiagnosed -- or misdiagnosed with another disorder -- for more than a decade.

There are multiple reasons for misdiagnoses of mental disorders -- but one of the major problems is that doctors may rush to diagnose and medicate patients for the most obvious condition that comes to their mind. Some of the doctors making those diagnoses are not qualified enough to tell the difference, however, between a depression that's part of bipolar disorder and a depression that's not.

In addition, doctors sometimes diagnose patients with mental disorders instead of realizing that the patients are actually suffering from mundane physical problems. Hormonal imbalances with a person's thyroid, for example, can create depression-like symptoms, without the presence of a major mental disorder.

What happens when a patient is misdiagnosed? If he or she is treated unnecessarily for a mental disorder, the side effects from unnecessary medication can cause permanent damage. If a patient isn't treated for a mental disorder, he or she could end up trying to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol. Even worse, a patient might try to commit suicide.

The failure to diagnose a mental illness or a mental illness misdiagnoses is a serious medical mistake. When that mistake leads to permanent damage, patients should consider their legal options. It's sometimes possible to hold doctors accountable for their mistakes -- especially if they weren't really qualified to make the diagnoses they made.

Source: NAMI.org, "Mental Health By The Numbers," accessed March 07, 2018

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