How accurate is your mental health diagnosis?
20th March, 2020
Expert Information

Getting a diagnosis is often the first step in seeking recovery for mental illness. When you speak to a medical professional for treatment, we usually take their judgement for granted — after all, they are the experts. However, there are sometimes other factors which can interfere, meaning a mental health misdiagnosis could be a lot more common than you may think.

Why are mental health disorders misdiagnosed?

Medical misdiagnosis forms the largest percentage of medical negligence claims according to NHS Resolution, with around 40% of claims relating to wrong, failed, or delayed diagnosis. This can be even more problematic for mental health cases.

This may be due to a number of reasons, including:

Difficulty getting a GP appointment

  • In October 2014, NHS England and the Department of Health set out a vision to improve access to mental health services by 2020. However, the process for receiving treatment could still take up to a maximum of 18 weeks before you are seen, although in some cases you may be able to get treatment within six weeks.

Limitations of GP when dealing with mental illness

  • Mental health services are free with the NHS, but in some cases, you will need a referral from your GP before accessing them. They first need to assess your circumstances and provide appropriate advice or treatment, before referring you to a specialist mental health provider – which can be very timely.

Overlapping symptoms

  • Some illnesses can share similar traits to others, and without careful evaluation, they can be mistaken for something else. In addition to this, you may have more than one condition which can present numerous physical and emotional symptoms.

Incorrect medical history

  • In order to have a good medical history, it can really help to have a seamless relationship with your doctor. However, in the case of mental illness, you may often be referred to a specialist depending on which symptoms you have. Your doctor must first assess you before transferring you, but if their diagnosis is incorrect, the specialist could have the wrong information.

 

The effects of misdiagnosing mental illnesses

mental health misdiagnosis

When misdiagnosis occurs, the symptoms cannot be effectively treated

 

If you have a mental illness, your recovery may benefit from having a doctor identifying and treating it early. However, if your condition has been misdiagnosed or missed altogether, this could have a negative impact on both your mental health and physical wellbeing.

Mental health

When misdiagnosis occurs, the symptoms of the mental illness that you are dealing with cannot be effectively treated, meaning existing mental health problems may persist. Not only that, but if you have been given the incorrect medication, your symptoms could potentially get worse.

For example, if you have bipolar disorder and you are given antidepressants for treatment, you are at a heightened risk of mania, increasing mood swings, or more severe depressive episodes.

Physical wellbeing

Many people suffering from mental illness can be incredibly vulnerable. Therefore, it is crucial that they are placed in an environment to suit their needs with appropriate supervision for their condition.

If a patient is misdiagnosed, they may not be placed in an environment which is safe for them. Sadly, this can often lead to injury.

For example, a patient who has suicidal tendencies requires a high level of supervision and a more controlled environment to ensure that they aren’t able to cause harm to themselves. If they are placed in a location with access to harmful tools, this could result in life-changing injuries which could have been avoided given the correct diagnosis and treatment.

“While providing a diagnosis can be difficult, a treating clinician
has a duty to consider all reasonable causes of your condition.”

 

What to do if you believe you have been misdiagnosed

If you believe you have been misdiagnosed for a mental illness, it’s important to first talk to a mental health professional about your concerns. From here, you can ask for a second opinion if you’re not sure about the treatment or diagnosis suggested to you. If your doctor refuses, you can contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) for advice.

While providing a diagnosis can be difficult, a treating clinician has a duty to consider all reasonable causes of your condition – taking the appropriate steps to confirm or discount any potential diagnosis. If you believe this duty of care has not been followed, you could be entitled to make a claim.

Here at Patient Claim Line, we know how stressful and time consuming the legal process can be to make a claim, which is why our team of lawyers experienced in misdiagnosis cases can give you the support you need.

If you’ve been a victim of medical negligence and are looking for compensation, discover how Patient Claim Line can help in our how it works section.

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