5 useful ways to challenge a mental health misdiagnosis
Questioning a diagnosis can be intimidating, so we’re sharing ways to work alongside health care professionals to make it a smoother and less stressful experience
According to Bipolar UK, it takes an average of nine years to receive a bipolar diagnosis, with patients being misdiagnosed an average of 3.5 times during that period. And the long road to diagnosis isn’t exclusive to this particular mental illness.
As someone who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) instead of autism and ADHD, I know this feeling all too well. And a National Autistic Society study found that 42% of women were misdiagnosed with a mental health condition before being recognised as autistic.
Questioning a diagnosis can be nerve-racking, which is why we’re sharing some useful tips for going about it, with the help of counsellor Jenny Warwick.
Book an appointment with your GP
When booking an appointment, explain that you suspect a possible misdiagnosis and would like a review. This is especially important if you think the medication you’ve been prescribed isn’t right.
“If medication is prescribed for a condition you don’t have, the treatment given is unlikely to work,” Jenny explains. “This could mean that you are less likely to go back to the health care provider for follow-up treatment.”
Being given the right medication, treatment, or support can be life-changing, so making that appointment is a positive first step.
Write notes in bullet points
Trying to remember everything you want to say in your appointment can be tricky, especially when you have a lot you want to talk about. Jenny says: “It can be helpful to make some bullet points of what it is you want to say, so that you have the facts easily to hand. You might not have a lot of time in the consultation to be able to explain what is happening and how you are feeling.”
That’s why, in the lead-up to your appointment, it’s a good idea to write everything down in a diary or journal. Alternatively, typing up your thoughts and printing off two copies (one for you and one for your GP) can be really helpful. You can then go through the information together.
Record signs, symptoms, and sleep
In order for your health professional to review your diagnosis, be sure to record as many signs and symptoms as you can. This includes information about your moods, how you’re feeling, any behaviours you’re worried about (for example, substance abuse or isolating yourself) and also any big life changes (relationship breakups, bereavements, job loss, etc).
Additionally, it’s important to note down how you feel physically. “Physical illness can cause symptoms which could be confused with mental health issues – for example, low mood and fatigue associated with hyperthyroidism,” Jenny explains.
“You could keep a mood diary including things like changes to sleep patterns, or changes to your appetite. Keep track of your moods and your behaviour so that it may be possible to find a link between these, which would be helpful with a diagnosis.”
(Try to) trust the process
If you’ve approached your GP or psychiatrist in the past about a possible misdiagnosis and they haven’t listened, it can be hard to trust the process.
“Losing trust could mean a person doesn’t continue to engage with their support if they feel they are not being heard or understood by their health professional. Their mental health is likely to get worse because it is not being treated appropriately,” Jenny says.
I was so afraid of being reviewed by the same psychiatrist who misdiagnosed me, that I asked for a second opinion from a different person. When they agreed, it was a sign that they were taking my concerns seriously so it’s always worth asking.
Don’t give up
The road to the right diagnosis doesn’t always run smoothly, so keep the destination in mind.
“Getting the right diagnosis can be a positive experience,” Jenny concludes. “It gives a name to how you’ve been feeling. The correct diagnosis also means the correct treatment and support are made available. It helps you to understand exactly why you are feeling the way you are.
“It can feel like a huge weight has been lifted and this, in and of itself, can help you to start down the road to recovery.”
If you are concenred about a misdiagnosis, speak to a qualified counsellor at the Counselling Directory.