Every year, 1 in 4 of us will be diagnosed with a mental health issue and once a week, 1 in 6 of us will experience a common mental health problem such as depression or anxiety.
Of course, a diagnosis can result in a huge weight being lifted. It allows the individual, and those around them, to understand their thoughts and feelings and provides access to the correct medication, therapies and psychological support.
Sadly, it’s not always as straight-forward as this. The mind is an incredibly complicated tool. Without the correct medical expert who has extensive knowledge and experience in mental health, misdiagnosis is incredibly common.
For example, nearly half of depression diagnoses do not meet the correct criteria, with many of these cases in fact being physical issues with similar symptoms. One example here is hyperthyroidism which causes issues such as fatigue and low mood.
The incorrect diagnoses of mental illnesses which have later been found to be physical issues is frighteningly high. One study found a shocking 83 per cent of individuals referred for psychiatric treatment in fact had underlying, undiscovered physical ailments.
Misdiagnosis can also mean an incorrect mental health diagnosis. Most psychiatrists will follow criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to diagnose a patient. However, there are many symptoms that overlap from one diagnosis to another.
The most misdiagnosed mental illnesses are bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety. Many of these are first labelled as depression; misdiagnosis means individuals can go months, even years, without a second opinion or re-diagnosis.
What could a misdiagnosis mean?
Many medications for mental health problems carry potential side effects. Some can be temporarily hard to manage, such as nausea and insomnia. Others can have long-terms risks such as suicidal ideology or addiction.
Misdiagnosis may mean being prescribed and taking medication unnecessarily. This leaves individuals vulnerable to symptoms getting worse, higher rates of suicide and long-term negative physical side-effects.
A generic treatment used by most psychiatrists for many mental illnesses is Cognitive behavioural Therapy (CBT), a proactive talking therapy help individuals change the way they think and/or behave.
However, certain diagnoses will require very specific treatments and methods of support. For example, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) was viewed for many years as an almost ‘untreatable’ illness, but, with new evidence, we now know that the illness can be alleviated through very specialist treatment by a trained provider.
An individual who may perhaps have a much more complex issue like BPD but does not receive the correct diagnosis by a care practitioner may feel worse if given the wrong support which sadly, could lead to harmful or fatal behaviours.
Having a mental health issue is something you, in some circumstances, do not have to disclose. For example, at work; there is no legal requirement to tell your boss or HR that you have received a diagnosis.
However, for things like insurance, if you do not disclose your mental health status and subsequently make a claim on something which may have been caused by your mental state, you may be found guilty of non-disclosure.
While no insurer can deny you a policy because of your mental health, there is evidence that by declaring this, you are penalised with higher premiums. This is just one example of how a mental health diagnosis could lead to hidden bias.
If an individual is misdiagnosed with a problem that creates prejudice, for that period, accessing basic needs can feel impossible.
What to do if you are misdiagnosed
Seeking legal aid should be the very last option. The process costly but it may cause unnecessary stress to the individual involved.
Find out the facts
What criteria in the DSM did your psychiatrist think you met and what evidence did they have for this? Once you have this information, get in touch with your psychiatrist to conduct a meeting on this diagnosis. Explain why you feel this is necessary and ensure you have gathered evidence.
You can have a family member aid you in this process.
Get a second opinion
If you do not agree with your first diagnosis you can go to another health worker for a second opinion.
By law, you don’t have a right to a second opinion. But it is rare that healthcare workers will deny the request.
Who you go to is dependant on who your first diagnosis was made by, for example, if it was a GP, you can only gather an opinion from another GP or ask for a psychiatric referral.
The Patient Advice and Liaison Service’s (PALS) main role is to help patients resolve any issues they may have with their treatment. This will be your next port of call.
Make a complaint
Write to whichever service you are unhappy with via their complaints platform outlining your issues. If needed, you can contact the NHS Advocacy service to help you here.
Seek legal aid
If all other avenues have been exhausted, now is the time to find a lawyer.
This sort of clinical negligence can be harmful, even fatal, for those involved. Here at Lysander Law, we understand how incredibly frustrating and damaging this process can be, and we want to help you resolve it and get the compensation you deserve.
If you feel that your care has been handled poorly and that you have received a misdiagnosis, contact us here and our specialist clinical negligence team will be there to support you during this incredibly challenging time.