Gifted people show many traits that could also be seen as phenomenological aspects of mental disorders.

Apart from phenomena associated with giftedness, a gifted person may suffer from stress factors such as a difficult family background, a traumatic accident, etc. that can actually lead to mental illness.

Since misdiagnoses can have extremely negative consequences, it is important to know the causation of different symptoms and make a differentiated diagnosis:

  • If a giftedness phenomenon is diagnosed as mental illness, treatment will be unsuccessful and usually carried out over a long period of time. This can have serious negative consequences for the person's self-image and experience of self-efficacy and lead to phenomena of disease mongering and stigmatization.
  • If an actual mental illness remains unrecognized, it won’t be treated and the suffering will persist unnecessarily long.

Sometimes, the causes mix. ADHD phenomena for example, could come partly from an actual, mildly pronounced ADHD illness, partly from a chaotic family background, and partly from underexertion in school. What helps in finding the actual reason, is to make detailed descriptions of the symptoms’ first occurrence, progression and triggers. If you are still uncertain, you need to communicate this to the individual client and decide together which symptom you want to address first and observe very closely if and what changes. No changes or improvements indicate that you were wrong and need to adjust your hypotheses and treatments.

The following tables give you an overview of potential double- and misdiagnoses related to the specific traits of giftedness. Here you can download this table in PDF format. Some classifications may be debatable; however, I made the best possible comparison with theory and my practical experience to-date.
If you like to delve deeper into this topic, I recommend the book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults by James T. Webb published by Anodyne.


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