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Op-Ed: 30 years misdiagnosed with schizophrenia- How many more?

By Paul Wallis     Sep 30, 2011 in Health
Sydney - I was recently made aware of a person who’d been diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia for 30 years – and was then told it was a misdiagnosis. So how many more people are still under treatment on the basis of these almost prehistoric diagnoses?
The person involved actually had a form of depression with some complications. To say this person went through hell in that time would be a massive understatement.
I’m not going to name any names, both for reasons of the laws regarding medical privacy and the laws related to defamation. It’s more productive to look at this case in principle, to see the wider issues and the options for making a big improvement to help these long-suffering people.
The case got me interested enough to do a bit more checking. The results were to say the least not reassuring:
Epileptic diagnosed as schizophrenic for 10 years- and denied the right treatment.
A 1983 record of 76 bipolar patients misdiagnosed with schizophrenia
Asperger’s Syndrome patients misdiagnosed with schizophrenia
Misdiagnosis of psychotic syndrome as schizophrenia
You get the idea. You could do a list bigger than the Yellow Pages just with what I was able to find online.
There are multiple issues here for public health and psychiatry in particular. This article isn’t a witch hunt for someone to blame. It’s about a real problem that may be affecting tens of thousands of people.
There are some major considerations here:
1. A diagnosis of schizophrenia is like a bullet. The stigma and rejection experienced by people with this diagnosis, which is about as non-specific as possible in terms of clinical realities in individual cases is extreme.
2. The old style diagnoses wouldn’t even be considered medical practice these days.
3. The diagnosis I referred to in the introduction was conducted in the pre-Prozac days, before the intensive studies and new science finally got a grip on depression, which seems to be the main candidate for misdiagnosis in this field.
4. There’s a culture of referrals followed by chronic apathy and lack of patient monitoring and management. The person referred to received a “blank check” series of repeats for multiple antidepressants, anti-psychotics and sedatives. This is appalling- Giving a person with a condition well known for suicidal behaviour the means to commit suicide by an overdose. (Any net trolls thinking of suggesting they should do that, try it yourselves, cretins.)
5. GPs don’t seem too anxious to rock the boat with patients not responding or becoming worse under medication.
Pharmacists appear to lack the basic initiatives, not to say common sense, to be suspicious of “security blanket” prescriptions which allow self-medication on this scale.
So- The possibility is that as a result of a combination of almost literally Stone Age medicine, an apathetic support system and sheer lack of interest from anyone, large numbers of people over the last few decades may be existing under a totally useless regime of medication and lack of support.
This has every sign of being yet another global atrocity. Imagine millions of people in the wilderness of desolation, rejection and patronizing disinterest experienced by most schizophrenics- all there for no reason but a misdiagnosis. It's all too possible. Add to this the incredible, far more insane than any schizophrenic will ever be, culture which believes that a "Nanny Society" is one where people get the health care which they need, and denies adequate public health services while conducting a "Save The Billionaires" campaign around the world, and the prognosis isn't too good for doing anything to help these people.
The fact is that this situation is manageable on a large scale. There's no need to go through the dino-bureaucracy system to get results in this case.
Modern psychiatry is a very different thing from the insular/ cynic’s easiest target, “my analyst said” range of the 1970s. Help for misdiagnosed “schizophrenics” need not be more than a phone call away. I’m quite sure that a lot of highly motivated professionals know how to put together management schemes to deal with this issue on a large scale.
It’s possible to provide both a massive improvement in treatment of underlying conditions and a major morale boost to the misdiagnosed simply by revising the diagnosis as required. This can be a huge positive, giving these people their freedom and in many ways giving them vindication and perhaps literally giving them their lives back.
Just one more thing-
About 10 years ago a girl was brought to a community group in the UK, screaming and yelling. She was given an exorcism. She died of complications related to a broken leg. I'm sure the meaning of this analogy won't be lost on psychiatrists of any era.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, epilepsy misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, aspbergers syndrome misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, depression misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, 1970s clinical psychiatry