Why Can Bipolar Disorder Be Difficult to Diagnose?

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose because the illness shares many symptoms with other mental health disorders. Depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are a few of the mental health issues that share many similar symptoms as bipolar disorder.

People may find it difficult to self-diagnose or summarize their symptoms to a health professional because certain symptoms are not easily recognized, especially when it comes to bipolar disorder. Bipolar individuals experience fluctuating episodes of depression and mania. With such a dramatic shift in mood and energy levels, an individual can simply think that their manic symptoms are normal since they are no longer experiencing the symptoms of depression.

Although symptoms of mania are just as aggressive, it is easier to identify negative feelings like sadness, helplessness, fatigue, despair and thoughts of suicide than identifying the elevated mood and energy levels that come with mania. If an individual is unable to recognize these separate episodes that make up bipolar disorder, a health professional may give an inaccurate diagnosis.

Another reason why bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose is because there is no medical test to can indicate a positive match. Unlike physical health problems, a person cannot provide a blood or urine sample or have an X-ray or EKG taken to detect the problem.

Diagnosing mental health issues is much more complex. A person cannot point to an area of his or her body that is causing pain as one can with a physical illness or injury. Therefore it makes it much more difficult for an individual to self-diagnose the right symptoms and accurately communicate these symptoms to a health professional.

In addition, symptoms of bipolar disorder vary from person to person. Some individuals look at a list of the disorder’s symptoms and reject the possibility because they do not meet the criteria or cannot identify with all of the symptoms. Not every person will experience the exact same symptoms of bipolar disorder and again, not every person will be able to recognize every symptom they are experiencing.

How Drug and Alcohol Use Can Mask Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Another crucial factor that hinders the proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder is the occurrence of substance abuse or addiction. The effects of substance abuse can both exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as mask symptoms of the disorder. This problem is prevalent because many individuals with undiagnosed mental health disorders, like bipolar disorder, seek out drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the interferences and pain the disorder has brought into their life.

However, instead of recognizing the root problem or disorder, friends, family and the users themselves are led to believe that the changes in mood, thoughts and behaviors are due to excessive drug or alcohol use. This delays and even prevents the chances of diagnosing the disorder, allowing for serious health, social, economic and financial problems