Sinéad O'Connor and Her Misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

It's a good idea to obtain a second opinion if you suspect a misdiagnosis.

Sinead O'Connor
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Irish singer and songwriter Sinéad O’Connor, a person with  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ​(PTSD), was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder in her late 30s.

After spending eight years taking medications for a mental illness she didn’t really have, Sinéad spoke out in an interview with Ruby Wax on the importance of getting a proper diagnosis and multiple opinions from doctors.

She feels that many other people with PTSD are being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder and given medications instead of receiving the therapy they need to deal with their issues.

“There’s no need,” she says, “for someone who isn’t suffering from bipolar disorder to be taking really heavy anti-psychotic medications.”

Mental History of Sinéad O'Connor

Having always been a controversial figure in the media, Sinéad first received notoriety when she ripped up a picture of the Pope. She became a target for so-called crazy behavior from then on and was particularly heckled in Ireland, her home country. Her sudden musical fame and social infamy hit her by surprise after emerging from a “barbaric childhood” and left her little time to emotionally process much of anything.

Her depression mounted until she hit a suicidal breaking point, explaining that she was “looking at trees, and instead of a beautiful tree I’d see something I could hang myself on.” She explained these feelings to her doctors, who took this information and coupled it with what they had heard in the tabloids to give her a “diagnosis” in just a few minutes over the phone.

Desperate to believe that something as simple as a pill could fix everything, Sinéad happily accepted the diagnosis and her new status as someone with bipolar disorder. The new regimen of medications took away the suicidal feelings, and so she imagined herself cured.

Yet even at an early stage in the medication, she seemed to feel that something wasn’t quite right about her diagnosis.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2004, she stated, “I don't think I was born with bipolar disorder—I believe it was created as a result of the violence I experienced.” This was truer than she realized at the time, considering her symptoms may have been from PTSD caused by her childhood experience and not by a mental illness.

After spending eight years on bipolar medications, Sinéad realized that her depression hadn’t really gone away. Some of the same problems she’d had before being medicated were persisting, and on top of that, she had gained enough weight because of the drugs that people in the music business were beginning to complain.

A Questionable Diagnosis

Mentioning her concern about weight to her doctors, they suggested taking her off bipolar meds entirely. This gave her quite a bit of concern. If her doctors could so flippantly take her off medication for a serious mental disorder just because she was a little overweight, did she really have bipolar in the first place?

Aware that simply going off meds could be a dangerous and life-threatening decision, she sought other opinions from doctors outside of Ireland, who all agreed that she did not have the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

She was carefully supervised and weaned off the drugs but says that the detoxification process was so bad that it ironically gave her some problems associated with bipolar disorder, like mania and serious depression, for nearly an entire year.

Pushing Through the Stigma of Mental Illness

Coming off of eight years of believing she had bipolar and being treated as such, Sinéad came to a sobering realization. “If people think that you have a mental illness, they take it as a license to dismiss everything you think, do, say, or feel.” It’s easy to write someone off as ‘just crazy’ instead of seeing them as a rational human being.

Moving forward, she hopes that people will stop using the word “crazy” as an insult. This way, those who are diagnosed with various mental disorders no longer have to suffer through the social stigma of being written off as somehow less important than others.

Note: In spite of her having stated clearly on several occasions that she does not have bipolar disorder, O’Connor continues to be included at many sites that compile lists of famous bipolar people.

Sources:

Interview with Sinéad O’Connor. Oprah.com. (10/04/2007). Understanding Bipolar Disorder.

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