It Took a Mere 35 Minutes to Diagnose Me with Bipolar!

In 35 minutes or so of seeing a mental health professional, he came to a pretty serious conclusion: I have bipolar disorder and he gave me two packs of sample medicine. Is it reasonable to assess someone in such a short period of time for such a serious diagnosis? I'm thinking about getting another opinion. —Not So Fast
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Dear Not So Fast,

I am assuming that you consulted with either a psychiatrist or psychologist, someone who is licensed to prescribe drugs and has training in the treatment of mental health issues. MDs of all specialties are licensed to prescribe drugs of all kinds; I suggest strongly that you consult a psychiatrist who has a special understanding of both the diagnosis and the treatment of bipolar. I also hope that you scheduled a follow-up visit for sometime soon or will make an appointment with another provider.

In the matter of getting a second opinion, the diagnosis is serious, as you know, and yes, 35 minutes seems a rather short amount of time; getting a second opinion is always worthwhile. However, bipolar is actually under-diagnosed.

That said, let’s answer your question. Let’s start by examining the diagnosis itself, and then I will ask you to think about what was discussed by the mental health professional you consulted and if you feel like you have a clear understanding your condition.

There are some signs that a professional will look for in making the diagnosis of bipolar, which as you know describes a person who is sometimes manic and sometimes depressed. The first sign to look for is frequent change in mood, energy, and activity; people who are bipolar can change back and forth. Other signs and diagnostic criteria are outlined in the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by clinicians to determine diagnosis and treatment. Keep in mind that the DSM-5 criteria do not necessarily apply toward a diagnosis of bipolar if, for example, the person has experienced recent bereavement or is using drugs or has certain medical conditions.

Now let’s consider some things that may or may not help you determine how to proceed:

  1. Were the signs of mania and depression discussed when you met with your mental health provider? Do you remember your answers? Perhaps those answers were so clear that the diagnosis was clear, too.
  2. Where did you meet? Private office? Clinic? Emergency room?
  3. How did you choose to consult with this doctor? Were you referred by a friend or colleague or by another doctor?
  4. Did you feel comfortable during the interview? Did you feel rushed?
  5. What are the doctor’s credentials? MD psychiatrist? PhD? MSW?
  6. Does the mental health professional’s license allow for dispensing of drugs?
  7. Do you have a regular consulting physician whom you visited to rule out any physical health issue that might be a contributing factor? Did the mental health professional ask you if you had done this, or recommend that you do so if you had not?

Your question was short and to the point. I hope my answer isn’t too lengthy. I wanted to give you as complete an answer as I could so you could make an informed decision about what to do next. Ultimately, if you have doubts about your diagnosis or don’t feel comfortable with the circumstances that led to it, it’s probably worthwhile to get another opinion.

Take care,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • Theresa S

    Theresa S

    October 17th, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    To me it seems exceedingly quick to diagnose and provide medication for such a serious issue… I would honestly maybe ask for a second opinion.

  • MEG

    MEG

    October 18th, 2014 at 5:56 PM

    I think that I agree with Theresa. I think that this is a little quick to come to this kind of conclusion and then send you away with sample meds. What if you wanted to try other treatments or you at least wanted to seek another opinion? I don’t know, I just think that this is awfully quick. I don’t think that it would hurt to at least seek out another professional to talk to, there is nothing wrong with that. And if you get the same answer, then alright, go with it and you can choose the person with whom you want to work. But if something feels off then there must be a reason and I think that I would pursue that a little.

  • Gordon

    Gordon

    October 23rd, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    I would have to go with the thought that maybe this person just knew what he was doing and saw what the problem was from the very beginning.
    But still it sounds like you may have your doubts, so to ease your mind it is probably not a bad idea to see someone else too and then you can see if the thoughts on your particular diagnosis jibe.

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