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Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder Versus Major Depression

A New Assessment Tool

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Updated March 16, 2013

Sonia was diagnosed with depression and was prescribed an antidepressant by her doctor. Over the next 5 years, Sonia took multiple antidepressants until a spiral into extreme mania led to her hospitalization and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In retrospect, Sonia believes that if her doctors had taken the time to dig a little deeper and not be so quick to diagnose, she would not have been misdiagnosed for so long. View a video of Sonia’s story presented by Say How You Feel

Many people are first diagnosed with depression or anxiety when, in fact, they actually have bipolar disorder. Research in this area indicates one in two will first be told they have depression and one in four will be told they have anxiety. (Say How You Feel) "Bipolar depression may be difficult for both patients and doctors to identify because the symptoms are often confused with major depression," said Joseph R. Calabrese, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University and Director, Mood Disorders Program, University Hospitals of Cleveland. (GlaxoSmithKline, 2006)

At the 159th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in Toronto, Canada on May 22, 2006, a new study was presented, which was designed to identify predictors of bipolar disorder risk among patients treated for major depression. This research study identified five key items (GSK, 2006):

  • Co-morbid anxiety
  • Feelings of people being unfriendly
  • Family history of bipolar disorder
  • Recent diagnosis of depression
  • Legal problems

"It’s important for people who are suffering from depression to talk to their doctors about other experiences and symptoms over their lifetime – especially times when they were feeling really well," said Gary Sachs, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director, Bipolar Disorder Clinic and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. "The predictors identified in this study may help physicians and patients identify depression associated with bipolar disorder rather than unipolar mood disorder" (GSK, 2006). To help patients start a dialog with their physicians, a brief questionnaire was developed and is available at Say How You Feel. Your responses to this survey can be printed to take to your next doctor's appointment.

References

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). (2006, May 22). "Study identifies predictors of bipolar disorder risk."

Say How You Feel. (2006).

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