Diagnosing Your Disorder. (It’s likely you’ve been misdiagnosed)

It is difficult to get a proper mental health diagnosis even with a knowledgeable and caring clinician

http://ReChanneling.org

One reason why it is crucial for us to understand the causes and symptoms of our disorder is the likelihood of misdiagnoses. It is time to recognize: we know more about the impact of our condition than our doctors. Psychiatrists may have extensive knowledge of medication, and psychologists, treatment programs, but that expertise is useless if the client is misdiagnosed and mismanaged. Mental health misdiagnosis is a cautionary phenomenon. Even mainstream medical authorities have begun to “criticize the poor reliability, validity, utility and humanity of conventional psychiatric diagnosis.” [i] A recent Canadian study reported, of 289 participants in 67 clinics meeting DSM-IV criteria for social anxiety disorder, 76.4% were improperly diagnosed.[ii] The Anxiety Institute in Phoenix reports an estimated 8.2% of clients had generalized anxiety, but just 0.5% were correctly diagnosed.[iii] Experts cite the mental health community’s difficulty distinguishing different disorders or identifying specific etiological risk factors due to the DSM’s failing reliability statistics. This failure in psychological diagnosis is like being hospitalized for strep throat and losing a leg. 

The DSM changes drastically from one edition to the next, even though the APA swears by its credibility. One study[iv] cites therapist Zimmerman’s[v] concern that criteria are “added, removed, and rewritten, without evidence that the new approach is better than the prior one.” [vi] A recent study points out that DSM-IV listed nine possible symptoms or traits for narcissistic personality disorder; DSM-V contains only two.[vii]  

The massive number of revisions, substitutions, and changes from one DSM to the next is never universally accepted. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and researchers who specialize or survive by funding are justifiably protective of their territory. Even under the best circumstance with a knowledgeable and caring clinician, it is difficult to get a proper diagnosis. Currently there are eight or nine types of depression, four or five different anxiety disorders, five types of stress response (three of them are PTSD), nine forms of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and ten personality disorders.

Bipolar personality disorder, a psychosis, shares characteristics and symptoms with avoidant, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and post-traumatic stress disorders (neuroses). Psychologists cite the “substantial discrepancies and variation in definition, epidemiology, assessment, and treatment” of social anxiety.[viii] A researcher for this BLOG paper received three different depression diagnoses (including bipolar) and ADHD. Social anxiety was never considered, although he met nine of ten criteria for the disorder.

Adding to misdiagnosis is the prevalence of disorder comorbidity, which is especially concerning if the first diagnosis is inaccurate. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America [ix] reports many disorders are related to social anxiety, including major depression, panic disorder, alcohol abuse, PTSD,[x] avoidant personality disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders,[xi] schizophrenia,[xii] ADHD, and agoraphobia.[xiii] Anxiety and depression are commonly comorbid. “Some estimates show that 60% of those with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression, and the numbers are similar for those with depression also experiencing anxiety.” [xiv] Three types or clusters categorize 10 personality disorders: 3 focus on the bizarre and eccentric, 4 on the dramatic; and 3 on the anxious and fearful; each cluster shares traits and symptoms. The diagnostic criteria for one disorder are common to others. For example, dependent personality has characteristics and symptoms mirroring social anxiety, avoidant personality, and histrionic personality disorders.[xv] One misdiagnosis is bad enough, not to mention two, resulting in “in worse treatment outcomes.” [xvi]

Thomas Insel,[xvii] director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has been “re-orienting [the organization’s] research away from DSM categories,” declaring that traditional psychiatric diagnoses have outlived their usefulness,  A program of recovery cannot be entertained if the problem is misdiagnosed. A recent article in Scientific American[xviii] suggests replacing traditional diagnoses with easily understandable descriptions of the issues. 

A simple list of people’s problems (properly defined) would have greater scientific validity and would be more than sufficient as a basis for individual care planning and the design and planning of services. However, this BLOG balks at throwing out the baby with the bathwater, positing that the DSM could be utilized as a part of a more thorough analysis focusing on the character strengths that generate motivation and persistence/perseverance towards recovery-remission. 

Etiology and diagnosis drive the disease model. Which disorder do people find most repulsive, and which poses the most threat? What behaviors contribute to the disorder? How progressive is it? How effective are treatments? It is important to recognize how these attributions affect public perception, treatment options, and self-belief and image. Imagine being treated for the wrong condition. Not only does it defeat the purpose of the treatment, but it is also potentially dangerous. Firsthand, we know the impact of our disorder on our emotional wellbeing and quality of life far better than the clinician, whose relationship is one of power over communication. Self-diagnosis is a slippery slope, but a client armed with the knowledge of the traits and characteristics of their disorder, and its impact would have a far better possibility of appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Equally important is recognizing the extent of our strengths and abilities to counter and defeat the symptoms of our disorder. The disease model of mental health tells us the problem; the wellness model emphasizes the solution.


[i] Kinderman, P. (2014). Why We Need to Abandon the Disease-Model of Mental Health Care. [Online.] Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/why-we-need-to-abandon-the-disease-model-of-mental-health-care/  .

[ii] Chapdelaine A., Carrier J-D., Fournier L., Duhoux A. Roberge P. (2018) Treatment adequacy for social anxiety disorder in primary care patients. PLoS ONE 13(11) (2018). doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0206357.

[iii] Richards, T.A. (2014). Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder: Step by Step. [Online.] Phoenix, AZ: The Social Anxiety Institute Press.

[iv] Lynam, D. R. & Vachon, D. D. (2012). Antisocial Personality Disorder in DSM-5: Missteps and Missed Opportunities. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 3(4) 483– 495 (2012). doi:10.1037/per0000006

[v] Zimmerman, M. (2011). Is there adequate empirical justification for radically revising the personality disorders section for DSM-5? Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0022108

[vi] Stein, D. J., Fineberg, N. A., Bienvenu, O. J., Denys, D., Lochner, C., Nestadt, G., Leckman, J. F., Rauch, S. L., & Phillips, K. A. (2010). Should OCD be classified as an anxiety disorder in DSM-V? Depression and Anxiety, 6:495-506 (2010). doi:10.1002/da.20699.

[vii] Lynam, D. R. & Vachon, D. D. (2012). Antisocial Personality Disorder in DSM-5: Missteps and Missed Opportunities. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 3(4) 483– 495 (2012). doi:10.1037/per0000006

[viii] Nagata, T., Suzuki, F., Teo, A.R. (2015).Generalized Social Anxiety Disorder: A still‐neglected anxiety disorder 3 decades since Liebowitz’s review. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 69(12): 724-740 (2015).  doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12327

[ix] ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). (2019). [Online.] Facts and Statistics. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/understanding-anxiety-and-depression-lgbtq.

[x] Koyuncu, A., İnce, E. , Ertekin, E., & Tükel R. (2019). Comorbidity in social anxiety disorder: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. Drugs in Context 2019, 8. doi:10.7573/dic.212573; Lyliard, R. B. (2001). Social anxiety disorder: comorbidity and its implications. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 62(Suppl1): 17-24 (2001).

[xi] Cuncic, A. (2018). How Social Anxiety Affects Dating and Intimate Relationships. [Online.] verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/adaa-survey-results-romantic-relationships-3024769; Koyuncu, A., İnce, E. , Ertekin, E., & Tükel R. (2019). Comorbidity in social anxiety disorder: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. Drugs in Context 2019, 8. doi:10.7573/dic.212573

[xii] Cuncic, A. (2018). How Social Anxiety Affects Dating and Intimate Relationships. [Online,] verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/adaa survey-results-romantic-relationships-3024769; Vrbova, K., Prasko, J., Ociskova, M., & Holubova, M. (2017). Comorbidity of schizophrenia and social phobia – impact on quality of life, hope, and personality traits: a cross sectional study. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 13: 2073-2083. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S141749

[xiii] Koyuncu, A., İnce, E. , Ertekin, E., & Tükel R. (2019). Comorbidity in social anxiety disorder: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. Drugs in Context 2019, 8. doi:10.7573/dic.212573

[xiv] Salcedo, B. (2018). The Comorbidity of Anxiety and Depression. (Online). National Alliance on Mental Illness.  https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/The-Comorbidity-of-Anxiety-and-Depression 

[xv] DPD. (2007). Dependent personality disorder.  [Online.] Harvard Health Online.

[xvi] Koyuncu, A., İnce, E. , Ertekin, E., & Tükel R. (2019). Comorbidity in social anxiety disorder: diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. Drugs in Context 2019, 8. doi:10.7573/dic.212573

[xvii]  Insel, T. (2013). Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Transforming Diagnosis. [Online.] Washington, DC: National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml

[xviii] Kinderman, P. (2014). Why We Need to Abandon the Disease-Model of Mental Health Care. [Online] Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/why-we-need-to-abandon-the-disease-model-of-mental-health-care/ 

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