The Difficulty of Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
As discussed in a previous post, emotional dysregulation is frequently misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. A bipolar II diagnosis requires at least one episode of major depression and one episode of hypomania (less severe mania). Because hypomania is much shorter lived than mania, it’s more difficult to spot and rarely causes significant disruptions in one’s life. Many individuals diagnosed with bipolar II may, in reality, be struggling with emotional dysregulation.
Even bipolar I, the more common and observable diagnosis of the two, can be misdiagnosed, though less frequently. An individual may believe episodes of mania and depression are part of their natural mood cycles if bipolar disorder is masked by underlying drug or alcohol dependencies. Nearly 70% of individuals diagnosed as bipolar are misdiagnosed at least once before the correct diagnosis is made.
But what are the risks and dangers for an individual with undiagnosed bipolar or even an untreated bipolar diagnosis?
What Happens When Bipolar Is Untreated?
When left untreated, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, the symptoms of an individual living with bipolar I or II generally only worsen as time goes on. When a diagnosis is delayed or missed, the effects can result in personal, professional, and emotional problems that compound over time.
The Long-Term Effects of Untreated Bipolar Disorder
Along with the immediate ramifications brought on by manic and depressive states, an individual with untreated bipolar disorder may experience broader issues that negatively impact their quality of life, including:
Job Difficulties or Loss of Employment
The World Health Organization lists bipolar disorder as the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. Individuals struggling with bipolar episodes may struggle to hold a stable job or find employment if they have an inconsistent work history.
Relationships are difficult. Relationships while living with an untreated bipolar diagnosis can be even more difficult. From friends, families, and spouses, we’ve found that bipolar disorder can place additional stress on close relationships, even when appropriately treated. That’s why it’s also critical to understand how relationship dynamics go hand-in-hand with recovery.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Undiagnosed bipolar disorder can increase the likelihood of an individual using or abusing drugs and alcohol to self-regulate or self-medicate symptoms. Around 56% of individuals with a bipolar diagnosis experienced drug or alcohol addiction at some point in their lives, and 41% had abused or were addicted to drugs.
Increased Suicide Risk
Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of suicide. In one study, approximately 20% of individuals with a bipolar diagnosis ended their life by suicide, with most of the cases going untreated. Additionally, 20%-60% of individuals attempt suicide at least once in their life.
The Next Steps to Treating a Bipolar Diagnosis
At PCH, we understand that professional treatment is critical to effectively treating a bipolar diagnosis. However, instead of focusing on the diagnosis itself, we focus on delivering a holistic treatment plan that provides the tools, framework, and support you need to achieve a state of mental well-being. Reach out to our caring experts when you’re ready to get started.