• In many cases, a mental illness goes undiagnosed, due to an individual’s failure or hesitance to seek treatment, as well as misdiagnosis from a mental health provider.
  • There are three mental health conditions in specific that often of undiagnosed: bipolar disorder, post-traumatic disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
  • When it comes to bipolar disorder, this illness is often mistaken for depression, as individuals seek treatment when in a state of depression versus mania.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder also goes undiagnosed, as many sufferers don’t talk about the traumatic event they have experienced.
  • Additionally, posttraumatic stress disorder is also often mistaken for another disorder—for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or even ADHD.
  • Finally, borderline personality disorder also goes untreated, but because victims fail to realize that they have a problem and that it needs attention.

The unfortunate reality is that mental illnesses do go undiagnosed, for years or even lifetimes. There are multiple layers to why this occurs, including the individual’s failure to recognize that something is wrong or that the problem requires mental health treatment—additionally, many are hesitant to seek treatment out of fear of judgment. And for those who do take that step in receiving diagnosis and treatment, their true conditions are at times misdiagnosed or mistaken for a different illness.

Below, we’ll delve deeper into these layers, as they pertain to three mental health disorders that too often go undiagnosed: bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression, is characterized by abrupt changes in mood. Those affected by this disorder alternate between a state of depression and a state of mania (or hypomania, a less intense version of mania). When experiencing a depressive episode, these individuals might feel hopeless, empty, tired, or withdrawn; when experiencing a manic episode, they might feel energetic or overexcited, and engage in risky behaviors.

According to a study published in Psychiatry, a survey taken by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (DMDA) revealed that 69% of patients with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed and one-third of these individuals remain misdiagnosed for 10 years or longer. “It is often misdiagnosed as depression—this is because most people come in for treatment when they are depressed and so they meet the diagnostic criteria for depression,” explains Jamie Kreiter, licensed clinical social worker. Likewise, some patients seek treatment in the midst of their manic state and get misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Those with PTSD develop the condition after exposure to a traumatic event, such as abuse or assault, neglect, disaster, or war. Symptoms include:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability
  • Flashbacks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in day to day activities

PTSD United, Inc. states that 70% of adults in the US have experienced something traumatic (at least once in their lifetimes), and up to 20% of these individuals go on to develop PTSD. But many of them don’t even know it. Like bipolar disorder, PTSD is often overlooked or mistaken for another disorder. “The symptoms look very much like other diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and/or bipolar,” Evanye Lawson, licensed professional counselor, explains.

“There is a large misconception around what trauma is and most times people who are diagnosed with other mental illnesses usually have a form of PTSD driving their present-day symptoms,” she says. “It is commonly missed especially when the client or patient doesn’t talk about the trauma of their past or if the psychiatrist or psychotherapist is not asking questions related to their past trauma. I believe PTSD is more common than it is diagnosed and might even be more common than depression, anxiety, and/or bipolar.”

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD is primarily characterized by an inability to manage one’s emotions or feelings properly. Those with BPD might display serious behavioral symptoms—like antisocial behavior, irritability, or self-destruction—as well as mood symptoms or psychological symptoms. Mood symptoms include anger, anxiety, and loneliness, while psychological symptoms include distorted self-image and narcissism.

According to a recent study, more than four million people have BPD in the US alone. Unfortunately, though, the disorder often goes untreated. “Most people who experience Borderline traits do not realize that they are wired differently, and as such, do not seek help,” Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, licensed marriage and family therapist, explains. “People with BPD work, raise families, and function quite normally from the outside looking in. They are often just viewed as passionate, expressive, or drama queens.”

And those who do seek mental health treatment still often struggle to receive proper treatment for BPD because they are diagnosed with a different condition instead. Oftentimes, these misdiagnoses include PTSD, depression, or ADHD.