Cases That Test Your Skills

Is it bipolar disorder, or a complex form of PTSD?

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CASE A long history of suicidality

Mr. X, age 26, who has a history of bipolar II disorder and multiple inpatient admissions, presents to a state hospital after a suicide attempt by gunshot. He reports that throughout his lifetime, he has had >20 suicide attempts, often by overdose.

Mr. X is admitted to the hospital under a temporary detention order. He is initially adherent and cooperative with his psychiatric evaluations.

HISTORY Chronic physical and emotional pain

Mr. X is single, unemployed, and lives with his mother and nephew. He was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder during adolescence and receives sertraline, 50 mg twice a day, and lamotrigine, 100 mg twice a day, to which he reports adherence. He also was taking clonazepam and zolpidem, dosages unknown.

His medical history is significant for severe childhood liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease. He dropped out of school during high school due to his multiple medical conditions, which resulted in a significantly diminished overall childhood experience, interrupted developmental trajectory, and chronic physical and emotional pain. He has never been employed and receives financial support through disability benefits. He spends his days on the internet or watching television. He reports daily cigarette and marijuana use and occasional alcohol use, but no other substance use. His mother helps manage his medical conditions and is his main support. His biological father was abusive towards his mother and absent for most of Mr. X’s life. Beyond his mother and therapist, Mr. X has minimal other interpersonal interactions, and reports feeling isolated, lonely, and frustrated.

EVALUATION Agitated and aggressive while hospitalized

Upon learning that he is being involuntarily committed, Mr. X becomes physically aggressive, makes verbal threats, and throws objects across his room. He is given diphenhydramine, 50 mg, haloperidol, 5 mg, and lorazepam, 2 mg, all of which are ordered on an as-needed basis. Mr. X is placed in an emergency restraint chair and put in seclusion. The episode resolves within an hour with reassurance and attention from the treatment team; the rapid escalation from and return to a calmer state is indicative of situational, stress-induced mood lability and impulsivity. Mr. X is counseled on maintaining safety and appropriate behavior, and is advised to ask for medication if he feels agitated or unable to control his behaviors. To maintain safe and appropriate behavior, he requires daily counseling and expectation management regarding his treatment timeline. No further aggressive incidents are noted throughout his hospitalization, and he requires only minimal use of the as-needed medications.

The authors’ observations

The least appropriate therapy for Mr. X would be exposure and response prevention, which allows patients to face their fears without the need to soothe or relieve related feelings with a compulsive act. It is designed to improve specific behavioral deficits most often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a diagnosis inconsistent with Mr. X’s history and presentation. Trauma-focused CBT could facilitate healing from Mr. X’s childhood trauma/adverse childhood experiences, and DBT might help with his anger, maladaptive coping strategies, and chronic suicidality. Motivational interviewing might help with his substance use and his apparent lack of motivation for other forms of social engagement, including seeking employment.

Based on Mr. X’s history of trauma and chronic physical and emotional pain, the treatment team reevaluated him and reconsidered his original diagnosis.

Continue to: EVALUATION A closer look at the diagnosis...


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