University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers want to determine why African-Americans seeking help for mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia--putting them at risk of receiving incorrect treatment.

UC will lead a four-year, multicenter, national study to determine why these misdiagnoses occur, whether they lead to excessive use of antipsychotic drugs among African-Americans and whether misdiagnoses are happening in the Latino population as well.

\"Research has already shown that African-American patients are being improperly diagnosed,\" said Stephen Strakowski, MD, professor in UC\'s Department of Psychiatry and lead investigator for the study, \"but we need to find out why.\"

Treatment for mood disorders is different from that typically used for schizophrenia, Dr. Strakowski pointed out.

\"Patients suffering from depression or bipolar disorder who only receive medications for schizophrenia will continue to experience their original symptoms,\" he said, \"and they will be at risk for very poor outcomes.

\"Untreated mood disorders result in functional impairment both at work and in the home. These patients are also at an increased risk for suicide.\"

Previous studies suggest that misdiagnosis occurs when clinicians overemphasize certain symptoms often associated with schizophrenia, and overlook or stop short of checking for symptoms of mood disorders.

\"If we can determine that these misdiagnoses are in fact happening because symptoms are not being recognized properly,\" said Dr. Strakowski, \"we can find ways to correct the problem through new education techniques and new tools for assessing patients.

\"Ultimately, we hope that our findings provide a starting point for improving the way clinicians arrive at a final diagnosis and treatment plan.\"

Funded by nearly $10 million from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the UC-led study will also include Howard University in Washington, D.C., the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas, San Antonio.

According to the NIMH, approximately 1 percent of the population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime--more than 2 million Americans adults suffer from this illness in a given year. More than 18 million American adults in any given year have a mood disorder.

Dama Kimmon
University of Cincinnati