Bipolar Disorder: Overdiagnosed?

Two indicators: Research and practice. Well a new study seems to indicate that overdiagnosis is the order of the day. Furious Seasons has two stories on this topic, April 6 and 7, both quotes are straight from Furious Seasons.

Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, advocating a Bipolar Overawareness Week, has an extensive treatment of the topic, with some great quotes from David Healy, an Abilify video, and some wise words about the significance of getting a diagnosis, from The Last Psychiatrist.

To top it off, John Grohol at Word of Psychology covers the study and links to a first-person account of being diagnosed. It’s called To Hell and Back published in the Daily Kansan. Here’s a quote from the initial study’s author, Mark Zimmerman:

Clinicians are inclined to diagnose disorders that they feel more comfortable treating. We hypothesize that the increased availability of medications that have been approved for the treatment of bipolar disorder might be influencing clinicians who are unsure whether or not a patient has bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder to err on the side of diagnosing the disorder that is medication responsive.’ He continues, ‘This bias is reinforced by the marketing message of pharmaceutical companies to physicians, which has emphasized the literature on the delayed and underrecognition of bipolar disorder, and may be sensitizing clinicians to avoid missing the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Zimmerman concludes, ‘The results of this study suggest that bipolar disorder is being overdiagnosed and we recommend that clinicians use a standardized, validated method in diagnosing bipolar disorder.

Thanks to Furious Seasons again for this quote, from a clinician:

In my private practice as a psychologist, I frequently find people misdiagnosed with Bipolar disorder. If someone has an anger problem, they often end up diagnosed as Bipolar. This happens frequently by family doctors and also psychiatrists. In my opinion, it’s really often a matter of justifying the meds they want to prescribe (most often an antipsychotic). I’d say, anecdotally, that the level of overdiagnosis I see is pretty consistent with the studies results (50-60%). I do evaluations for people seeking disability based on mental illness diagnoses, so I frequently see people labeled as Bipolar. More often than not, the diagnosis is more consistent with a cluster B personality disorder (erratic, unstable, and hyperemotional personality traits). But once you diagnose someone as being Bipolar, you can pretty well throw any class of psychotropic medication at them that you want to.”

Thanks again to Furious Seasons. The guy has been writing an astonishing number of posts. And really, the post at Clinical Psychology is also really quite well done.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

4 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder: Overdiagnosed?”

  1. Oh it’s not so clear…
    Any woman showing up angry is much more likely to get dx with a Borderline PD, which is even more open to any class of medications than Bipolar – or even worse, in an extreme state of psychological pain, she will be told that nothing can help her – or even worse – that she should just “get off of it” and “grow up”. Hence a suicide rate of up to 10%…


  2. Serious mental illnesses are tough to diagnose and tough to live with, but both are possible and living with an SMI is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to advances in medications and therapies, someone diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can live happy, productive, joy-filled lives.
    I am the mother of two children diagnosed with bipolar disorder (not that unusual–genetics!). I am also a writer and speaker who now actively advocates for mental health awareness.
    I invite you to visit my website at where I provide lots of science and research based resources, a frequently updated blog and some good old fashioned maternal attention!
    I hope to hear from you soon!
    Remeber to hit the contact Kate button and leave me a message!


  3. I too have a child diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder. It’s very frustrating when I hear that he has the “diagnosis of the day,” or “everyone has that these days.”

    Just because it is overdiagnosed doesn’t mean some children don’t have it.

    Just my .02



    1. I’m so sorry to hear that your child has this diagnosis. As a parent, it hardly matters what it’s called – such a diagnosis means both you and your child are suffering considerably. And you are absolutely right on the “just because it’s overdiagnosed doesn’t mean some children don’t have it” point.


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