“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It is what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
This quote, frequently attributed to Mark Twain, describes the dangers of believing something false with all your heart. Instead of focusing on treating the real problem, you find yourself putting all of your effort into fixing another issue that bears little relevance to your future. This quote was most famously used in the film “An Inconvenient Truth” to highlight the risks associated with denying climate change.
The quote is also — quite ironically — misattributed. At the very least, it was uttered by someone other than Mark Twain.
Nevertheless, the wisdom behind it is hard to ignore. When you believe in something that is false, you can suffer adverse effects. This is particularly true if your false belief involves your health.
Depression: A common misdiagnosis
Mental illness is always a little difficult to diagnose, particularly because there are no physiological tests to help clinicians out. Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests, cancer is diagnosed through biopsies and medical imaging … and mental illness is diagnosed through checklists of self-reported symptoms.
For this reason, mental illnesses including depression are sometimes misdiagnosed. According to a 2012 article in Current Psychiatry, 26 to 45 percent of patients referred for “depression” did not meet diagnostic criteria for a depressive illness. A 2009 meta-analysis discovered that general practitioners can only correctly identify depression in patients in 47.3 percent of cases and that many doctors diagnose depression in people who don’t have it.
Here are four conditions that are commonly mistaken for depression, both by clinicians and the public.
1. Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, like depression, involves periods of intense lows. During these lows, people with bipolar disorder experience the exact same symptoms found in depression. They may feel hopeless, worthless or even suicidal. Unlike depression, people with bipolar disorder also experience high periods, or mania, where they feel confident, productive and otherwise on top of the world.
Sometimes, this manic phase is so pleasant that people with the disorder are unable to recognize it as part of their illness. Instead, they only seek help during the low periods.
According to a study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, up to 22 percent of people with bipolar disorder are mistakenly diagnosed with depression. Another study found that people with bipolar disorder have an average gap of 10 years before they receive the proper diagnosis.
Recognizing the difference between bipolar disorder and depression is vital, since the medications used to treat depression can often worsen the symptoms of bipolar.