When you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you may be tempted to start with treatment right away. While that may be necessary in some cases, taking the time to get a second opinion may be a good idea. Here’s why.
Protect yourself against possible misdiagnosis
Getting the right diagnosis is the first step toward an effective mental health treatment plan. Unfortunately, providing an accurate psychiatric diagnosis can sometimes be difficult. Some mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) have overlapping symptoms, including difficulty concentrating, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and psychomotor agitation. The same goes for borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder: impulsive behavior, intense emotions, and suicidal thinking. These similar symptoms can thus lead to a misdiagnosis.
What’s more, the existing psychiatric diagnostic tools and resources have shortcomings. In medical diagnoses, doctors look at physiological tests (e.g., x-ray scan, blood test) to determine illnesses. On the other hand, mental health diagnoses rely on observation (a clinician observes the patient’s mood, attention span, etc.) and reported behaviors (patient or someone close to the patient describes the symptoms). With no laboratory tests available for mental illnesses, the doctor’s judgment comes into play.
Getting treated for the wrong illness can cost you much more time and money, and might even worsen your condition. For example, when bipolar patients are misdiagnosed with depression, they would be prescribed with antidepressants alone (instead of combining it with mood stabilizers). This puts them at risk of switching into mania or rapidly cycling between highs and lows. In short, the wrong medication can have devastating effects.
A second opinion can confirm the initial diagnosis so you can feel at ease with proceeding with your treatment plan. However, should the second doctor offer a different diagnosis, it’s best to talk with both doctors about their thoughts on the different diagnoses. Keep asking questions until you completely understand your options.
If possible, it would be helpful to get both doctors to consult with each other so they can come to a consensus on a diagnosis and treatment. If this is not possible, you may want to seek a third opinion or decide which doctor better meets your needs.
Explore possible treatment options
There is more than one way to treat an illness. And as the field of mental health continues to develop and evolve, more alternative treatment options become available.
By seeking a second opinion, you may learn about additional treatment options that the first doctor may not have mentioned. This helps you make an educated decision about your treatment plan and feel more in control of your health.
"Patients often have better outcomes when they go into treatment with confidence rather than half-heartedly or with worry. So there is value in those opinions, even if they don't shed new light on the treatment.”
— R. Ruth Linden, Ph.D., president of Tree of Life Health Advocates in San Francisco
Schedule a consultation with Meridian Psychiatric Partners to gain peace of mind about the primary diagnosis or treatment recommendation you received. We’ll take the time to explain our second opinion with your current provider to make sure you’re getting the best treatment.