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My sister was diagnosed with depression, but she was in an extremely good mood for the last month, to the point that it scares me. She has become very chatty, which is not like her. She told me that she stayed up all night last night a few weeks ago, working, and usually she needs 9 hours sleep. As well, she went on a shopping spree last week and I’m guessing that she spent about $1000 on books and mugs. In the last few days she has been feeling depressed again. From what I have read, it sounds like she has a bipolar disorder, but at her doctor’s appointment yesterday he just gave her a new prescription for her depressions medication and sent her on her way. I’m concerned, is it possible that she has been misdiagnosed?

Yes, it is possible. There are many people that have a bipolar disorder that go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. According to Dr Wes Burgess in his book, The Bipolar Handbook: Real-Life Questions with Up-to-Date Answers, Penguin 2006:

  • "It is estimated that 2 to 7% of people in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder. Almost 10 million people will develop the illness sometimes during their lives. About half of these will never receive the correct diagnosis or treatment."
  • “Only 1 person in 4 receives an accurate diagnosis in less than 3 years.”
  • "A recent study showed that almost 70% of bipolar patients had been misdiagnosed more than 3 times before receiving their correct diagnosis".

As you can see from the statistics above, it is quite possible that she has been misdiagnosed. As well, on average, a person sees 4 doctors before getting a diagnosis of a bipolar disorder. Often the reason for this is that doctors lack knowledge of bipolar disorders. In addition, people often see their doctor to treat their depression, and do not recognize that before the depression set in they had a manic episode. Therefore, they remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

It would be helpful for you and your sister to keep a mood chart that rates her moods over time. This would be very helpful information for her doctor. It will also give her important information about what is triggering her episodes by filling out the “Monthly Tracking Log.” Here is the link for a printable mood chart http://www.bipolar.com/pdf/bipolar_mood_chart.pdf To find a doctor that specializes in bipolar disorder, contact your local Bipolar disorder support group. As well, the agencies and subscribers below may be able to support you in your search. Once she has been seen by someone with additional experience or training, you will hopefully know, whether she does have bipolar disorder or not. She can then move forward into the appropriate treatment that will lead to her having the best life possible.

The Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder: http://www.obad.ca/

Canadian Mental Health: http://www.cmha.ca/bins/index.asp

Mental Health America: http://www.nmha.org/

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