How Prevalent is Misdiagnosis?

The following is an excerpt from a person’s story, shared on The Mighty“I really couldn’t comprehend this new diagnosis…Reading different articles and books, I realized I couldn’t identify with this diagnosis. It didn’t sit well with me at all, and I felt frequently upset at being misunderstood by the professionals.”

In reading this, how well does it resonate with you? Do you feel that the diagnosis you currently have just doesn’t “fit”? According to CBS News, approximately 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed each and every year. This number is gravely alarming, and can have profound consequences for many people. According to a study highlighted by CBS News, researchers believe that about 50% of diagnostic errors result in severe harm to others. Why is this happening to so many people? There are several potential reasons for this:

  • Not enough time spent on identifying the problem
  • Diagnosis is often based on the health professional’s best guess – typically by observable behavior they see that day (which may or may not depict everything you’re really experiencing)
  • Having a mental illness often dampens a person’s ability to really show or express what they’re going through, which can make it more challenging as well
  • Everyone has a bias as to what they believe is really the cause – making diagnosis quite difficult

A 2014 study published in the journal PLoS One sought to explore causes of “diagnosis overshadowing” – misattributing physical symptoms to that of mental illness – and researchers found several themes. Crowded environment, time pressures, targets, and stigmatizing attitudes were all found to take effect when it came to misdiagnosis – giving us several more clues to this unfortunate phenomenon. What can you do to help prevent misdiagnosis?

The best thing you can do is be as true to yourself as possible when speaking with a healthcare professional. Don’t try to hide the symptoms you’re experiencing, because that will only make it more challenging for them to understand your subjective experiences. Don’t be afraid to seek out second opinions until you get a diagnosis that you feel truly resonates with you. The road to recovery is a long one, but it’s well worth it.

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