In the age of antibiotics, vaccines, and other interventions, a growing number of people are going into chronic pain or suffering from chronic illness.
But despite this, we’ve been overdiagnosing some common conditions and ignoring the rest, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.
The study found that the majority of people with a condition in the DSM-5, the most-used diagnostic manual of mental health, are underdiagnosed by a wide margin.
“In the DSM 5, the percentage of people who were misdiagnosed as having a condition was more than 10 times higher than the percentage who were actually misdiagnosing,” says Elizabeth Stokke, a researcher at Harvard Medical School.
In other words, the DSM is being used by people who aren’t actually sick, but who might not be able to diagnose their conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and multiple sclerosis.
“It’s not surprising to see that people are misdiagnosising mental health conditions, and the numbers of misdiagnoses are so high,” says Dr. Stokkelberg, who also happens to be the director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
For example, while people with major depression are more likely to have misdiagnostics than people without it, people with chronic pain are much more likely than people with depression to misdiagnose as having chronic pain.
In addition, the study found the percentage misdiagnised with a psychiatric condition has increased more than 25% in the past decade, despite a recent increase in diagnoses of anxiety and depression.
The CDC’s latest data shows that the number of Americans who were diagnosed with a mental health condition increased by nearly 40% between 2012 and 2016.
“These are huge numbers that are occurring, but there is still a lot of underreporting of this disease,” says Stokkes.
“The data that we’ve got shows that this is a real problem.”
The findings are important, says Drs.
J.C. Lipsyte, a mental-health researcher at the University of Minnesota, and Robert B. Schwartz, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University.
“We have a lot to learn from what the data tells us about the way people are reporting these diagnoses,” Lipsye says.
For instance, people are more prone to misreporting mental illnesses if they are worried about the quality of the diagnosis or lack of a medical history, Lipsyes says.
People also tend to misreport their symptoms if they have no clear symptoms, like anxiety or depression, and/or feel that they are experiencing an illness of their own, Lipasye says, rather than being diagnosed.
“People are more reluctant to report these diagnoses if they feel they will be misunderstood or stigmatized,” he says.
“There’s a lot we can learn from that.”
This is why Lipsyse and Schwartz want to increase the availability of mental-compassion research.
“You don’t want to see people be underdiagnosing these diseases,” Lipasyes says, “because if they do, then you’re missing a huge opportunity.”