Overdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Disability Payments

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The diagnosis of bipolar disorder has received increasing attention during the past decade. Several research reports have suggested that bipolar disorder is under-recognized, and that many patients, particularly those with major depressive disorder, have, in fact, bipolar disorder. More recently, some reports have suggested that bipolar disorder is also overdiagnosed at times. There are several possible reasons for bipolar disorder overdiagnosis. In the present study, we examined whether secondary gain associated with receiving disability payments might be partially responsible for bipolar disorder overdiagnosis. A total of 82 psychiatric outpatients reported having been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which was not confirmed when interviewed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV. The percentage of patients receiving disability payments and the duration of disability payments were compared in these 82 patients and 528 patients who were not diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Compared with the patients who had never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the patients overdiagnosed with bipolar disorder were significantly more likely to have received disability payments at some point during the past 5 years, and were receiving disability payments for significantly more weeks. We conducted a regression analysis controlling for the number of lifetime diagnoses, and overdiagnosis of bipolar disorder was a significant predictor of disability status (OR = 3.8; 95% CI, 1.6–8.8). Thus, an unconfirmed diagnosis of bipolar disorder was significantly associated with receiving disability benefits.

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