Misdiagnosed Depression in Gifted Adults

How is it that gifted adults, and even children, so easily become depressed?  This is an interesting question that has been touched upon by many authors of many books over many years.

One part of giftedness is experiencing life at a deeper level than the average person — seeing beyond the facades of the world to the real and sometimes horrifying issues that lay hiding beneath.

Not having a veil over our vision as so many other people do brings stark realities to brilliant light, which, for us, can be very emotionally trying.

Shelley E. Taylor, PhD writes in her book Positive Illusions : Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind:

“The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than normal people. [They] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks.”

It becomes easy to see how we can exhibit all of the signs of depression when we meet with intense situations with no way to filter any of them.

Unfortunately, for many gifted people, the visual cues of depression get identified as actual depression, or something even worse, when we finally seek medical help.

Which one of us walks up to our doctor and says, “Hi.  I’m gifted and I’m having these symptoms.  What do they mean?”  And even if we did that, my guess is that many physicians wouldn’t necessarily be trained in giftedness well enough to be able to associate our desire to escape from the trials around us to our heightened sensitivities as gifted adults.

As a result, James T. Webb, Ph.D. notes in his article Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis.. (and his related book):

“Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals.

“The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthyinic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder.

“These common mis-diagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology.”

So for those who are feeling down and out, before you take major medications, see if there have been any negative situations in your life that could be tied to your giftedness.  If so, pursue those first.

If nothing seems to stand out for you, get some medical advice, but let your physician know you’re gifted as well.  It’s worth taking the chance that he or she may offer some different insights with this extra knowledge.

Join the forum discussion on this post
Be Sociable, Share!

  • http://www.bythemorninglight.wordpress.com MK

    I think part of the depression for me, with regard to being gifted, was that I was so far from the dreams and notions I had for myself growing up, and that gap between who I was and who I wanted to be made me depressed.

    I felt trapped in a life I hadn’t planned for, one that made me feel like I’d have to put off all that ‘dreaming business’ until my kids were grown and had left home, which then felt like it was too late.

    While not at a conscious level, I see now, that I was held back by many limiting beliefs about being a MOM and simultaneously doing other amazing things in the world. I was trapped by my own thoughts, stuck by no one but myself. Weird to stand in your own way, but I do now understand where a lot of those limiting beliefs came from. They are there to protect you in their own way.

    • Gifted

      You’re absolutely right in so many ways. These thoughts are common for a lot of people, except most don’t get to the part where they realize they’re likely the ones holding themselves back.

      The hardest part is when you know you’re in your own way, but then have to figure out what to do about it…

      • A

        Precisely! It has always made me depressed to think of all the possibilities that I could have, and even after recognising I am my biggest enemy, I still feel resentment towards others and life in general. Sometimes I feel so empowered and at other times, utterly helpless.

  • Pingback: Can gifted children burn out before they become gifted adults?()

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558700254 Dawn Sonntag

    Over the past several years, I have traced a pattern of becoming depressed when I am so burdened with petty survival duties that I am not able to be engaged in intellectually stimulating activity. I have noticed that when I have time to engage fully and deeply in learning more about the things that interest me, my depression evaporates, and it does not take weeks or months or medication or any kind of therapy to disappear. I am a college professor but the classes I have to teach are introductory and my non-teaching time is filled with what seem like endless, mindless, bureaucratic meetings and solving crises in my department.  Since I took this position, my depression has skyrocketed, and it finally occurred to me that it’s not because of any personal relationship issues, or because I am angry at my parents, or because of any health issues – it’s because I feel as if my mind is in prison, like I am forced back into first grade, when I was forced to sit and read “See Dick run,” and was punished for even looking ahead in that ridiculous book, and when my teacher yelled at me for reading “Black Beauty,” saying, “Who gave you that book?” (My mother had.) “You could not possibly understand what you are reading. That book is not for children.” Because I married very young and had children, my career was delayed, and I feel that because I entered academia at an older age, I am locked out of the good positions – the ones that would stimulate me.  I am kept so busy with the mundane and the petty that I have no time for research and creative activity. When I ask myself, “How am I going to create time for  intellectual stimulation in my life,” I come up with no solutions. Guess I am not that smart after all.

  • Jena

    As I am new here, I am experiencing a great deal of confusion, concerning the manner in which the subject of depression is being discussed.  I majored in psychology in college.  The requirements for almost every type of psych degree include at least one course in abnormal psychology.  In studying depression, a differentiation is made between what is brought on by environmental factors, and that which is classified as “Clinical Depression”–thought to be due to some kind of physiological ( usually brain) dysfunction. 

     I can testify of the difficulties inherent to the clinical form of a mood disorder.  In my case, that is bipolar disorder.  One example of what I experience, often on a daily basis, begins with sitting and watching TV.  I can be enjoying myself and be laughing boisterously, but then the strong sensation of an ocean wave rolling over me occurs.  I, immediately, burst into tears, feel sudden typical depressive symptoms (such as oppression, darkness, hopelessness, guilt, sadness, etc.), and am aware that my entire mood state has changed–without my permission or my blessing.  I have no say as to when this may happen.  It appears to be independent of anything which may be taking place in my life at the time.  I’m unsure of any other way in which to classify this phenomenom, than an unexpected switch in brain chemistry.

    Yes, there are many situations which cause me distress–some which I don’t handle very well.  I end up depressed over many of the brick walls which I am faced with every day.  But, I can tell the difference between the two types of depression which I have mentioned.  Another factor, is that my psychiatrist started me on a  a mood-stabilizing medication, which has proven to be very beneficial.  I show no response to any antidepressants, except a roller coaster ride into a manic phase. 

    All of these aspects of my “illness”, plus those of others, seem to suggest that there is more than one type of depression.  As there are several types of pneumonia, heart disease, ocular disorders, headaches, etc.,  I disagree with looking at an issue with only one eye open.  In the “soft sciences”, there is always room for one more opinion, one more research study, and one more result to add to the library’s archive.  With current discoveries being made, which are targeting genes, particularly responsible for the expression of many of the illnesses in question, I think we should be especially receptive to this area of medicine.  Who knows what research scientists will find next?

  • Jonescc


  • Jonescc

    Now here’s something for you…
    I’ve been told Iwas gifted, and after looking at the criterias and the quiz posted here, I believe it. I’m a college student, and suffering from depression and possibly ADD. All of my life I’ve NEVER been able to concentrate on everything. Most information just goes in one ear and out the other. I thought it was ADD but then again there’s some information that I just catch on to, and captures my interest at a deep level (learning about social issues and social solutions, and I was also in advanced math growing up).
    Unfortunately, I don’t know why this is, and it’s tearing me a part. I need to focus on my studies, but the material is too boring and meaningless for me to focus and I’m not just saying that, it’s just that I feel that if something doesn’t match my interests, then I don’t hear it.
    I don’t know what to do about this problem. It makes me feel like an idiot. I know that I am more thatn capable of being the straight A student, because  nothing has ever come hard for me (academically speaking) but I can’t pull myself to care about everything. I always procrastinate, because thats the only time I can focus and its been affecting my studies tremendously. What does this mean? How can I fix it?

    • Snoopydupi

      Hey Jonescc  ! I totally know where you’re coming from! I have poor self-control when it comes to studies … I hate authority … I’m interested in everything … I know I’m capable but can’t  seem to finish anything. 
      I was for a long time insecure about the fact that I want so many different things since everybody around me assured me it was impossible and I was just an emotionally immature daydreamer.This is my advice to you: Don’t listed to anybody but yourself . You don’t need them for the first step of your adventure and that is to ORGANIZE YOUR THOUGHTS! Try ( don’t get discouraged if it takes a while ) to COMBINE ALL OF YOUR INTERESTS into something more fluid and realizable.   ORGANIZE YOUR SURROUNDING . That means organizing your computer, your room and ditching all of your unambitious and unimaginative friends! 

      Those things you love and learn about are the things you are supposed to be doing! 

      Good luck! It helped me with self-esteem !  I still have days when I feel like shit though ahaha and don’t  see the point of it all !
      You mentioned you were depressed! Real depression should be treated with medication soo.. go and check your symptoms