The Rise in Bipolar Disorder Diagnoses

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Over the past decade, Mental Health Therapists have noticed a significant increase in clients seeking help for Bipolar Disorder. Prospective clients often call for a therapy appointment after being put on medication and receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder from their Doctor. The good news is that Doctors are reinforcing the need for therapy along with medication for the best treatment outcomes for their patients. Many Mental Health Clinicians wonder, however, if this trend is a result of environmental or biological changes, or if there is something else causing this increase in Bipolar Diagnoses.

One study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry basically found a huge, 40-fold increase in the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in children and teens over the past 10 years. In the study, researchers analyzed office visits that focused on doctors in private or group practices. According to Author John M. Grohol, Psy.D., in PsychCentral, “The key is that these are regular doctor’s offices- Not mental health professionals- Not professionals who are trained and experienced in diagnosing mental disorders, which often rely more on a clinician’s experience and expertise in asking the right questions to differentiate a disorder from something else. It may be that since these were regular medical doctors, and not mental health professionals, their diagnoses were simply more, well, wrong”.

Dr. Grohol went on to say, “I suspect that such general practitioners are more likely to diagnose a mental disorder, not out of any necessary ignorance or such, but because it is often the easiest thing to do than to try and get a parent a referral to a mental health specialist (such as a psychiatrist or child psychologist), and then ensure they follow-up with their appointment."

The problem with Doctors (who do not have specialized training) diagnosing Bipolar Disorder is that there are too many other conditions with symptoms that look like Bipolar Disorder. Senior author and psychiatrist Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H., told Psychiatric News that “the symptom overlap between ADHD and bipolar disorder increases the clinical challenge of distinguishing the two conditions”.

“Some symptoms, such as distractibility, pressured speech, and irritability, can be seen in ADHD as well as mania,” he said. “Because of the risks of inadvertently treating bipolar disorder with stimulant it is especially important to conduct a thorough assessment.”

As a Mental Health Therapist for over 25 years, I strongly urge my clients to get a medication evaluation from a Mental Health Specialist (i.e.- a Psychiatrist, Doctor, Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner, who have specialized training in Mental Health Treatment).  There is research that shows doctors who receive specialized training in specific disorders’ diagnosis and treatment do a better job of screening and diagnosing such disorders (Hata, 2005). Most of us expect to be referred to a Specialist for a heart condition rather than having our General Practitioner treat us. In fact, most patients are referred to a Podiatrist for a foot problem. So it seems ludicrous that patients aren’t automatically referred to a Mental Health Specialist to treat something as intricate as brain chemistry and diagnoses of Mental Health conditions. Getting an accurate mental health diagnosis and the right medication is crucial in patients having a successful treatment outcome.


By Christine Janse, LMFT

Christy works well with Challenging Adolescents, Phase of Life/Adjustment concerns, Couples issues, Addiction, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Depression and Anxiety.  She uses a variety of techniques to promote thought, growth and wellness along with other theories to help her clients feel better and function healthier in everyday life. Christy looks forward to meeting you. Christy is located in our Murrieta office, to schedule an appointment with Christy please call 951-778-0230