Misdiagnosing a Mental Health Condition

Doctors are not always right when it comes to diagnosing mental health conditions. Some patients may arrive with carefully documented symptoms but the doctor is not able to make a positive diagnosis affirming the condition. A misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis can make living with mental illness challenging in many ways for the individual who is struggling. Learn some of the ways an incorrect diagnosis can impact an individual person’s life and what to do if this happens to a loved one.



Prescription medication may make the problem worse, depending on the individual. When people receive an incorrect diagnosis, it is possible to receive incorrect medication as well. A person with ADHD may receive medication designed for an individual with bipolar disorder or some other condition. Receiving the incorrect prescription may postpone recovery by failing to treat symptoms. Other times it may react poorly with the individual and the condition which may exacerbate symptoms. Many people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed with major depression and placed on antidepressants which can trigger manic episodes in people with the disorder rather than provide treatment.


Therapeutic Support

Incorrect medication is not the only thing individuals with a misdiagnosis need to worry about. Therapeutic support which is offered incorrectly can exacerbate a person’s condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy is excellent for both depression and anxiety but other forms may exacerbate the person’s condition. Talk therapy is commonly helpful for individuals with anxiety but may harm persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as individuals with OCD tend to obsess about the past, symptoms and overall health. Encouraging individuals with OCD to discuss issues without cognitive intervention can worsen, not help, symptoms.


Lost Hope

Many individuals with mental illness take time to find the courage to seek treatment. When it happens, receipt of an incorrect diagnosis and, perhaps, incorrect treatment, may make the person feel like efforts were wasted. A person may decide to not bother taking medication or see a therapist if symptoms are not getting better. Individuals who are misdiagnosed might give up professional treatment and live instead with severe, untreated symptoms.


Misdiagnosing a Mental Health Condition

Misdiagnoses can happen for several reasons. Some of the following are a few of the reasons and what to do to get a proper diagnosis:

  • Individuals with mental illness tend to seek help for destructive symptoms (depression which causes missed work) and not productive symptoms (hypomania, staying up all night) which leaves out important details for providers
  • Individuals with mental illness tend to have several which co-occur, making it easy to miss or misattribute symptoms
  • No tests conclusively identify mental illness. Therapists must interview people and use own judgement rather than diagnostics
  • People are unique and one person’s symptoms will not look the same as the next. Clinicians must take time to assess individual symptomology so as not to miss anything


Holistic, individualized treatment plans are the best way to prevent misdiagnosis of mental illness and addiction. Contact Hired Power to find out how we can assist you or your loved one in receiving the proper support for a healthy recovery.