Diagnosing bipolar

Describes the nature of bipolar disorder, including the various diagnoses and treatment options available. Provides guidance on how to assist someone living with bipolar and offers strategies for self-care and management.

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What will my doctor ask me?

Your doctor will ask several questions, with the aim to correctly identify what best suits your symptoms and to correctly administer the right treatment(s).

They will ask you about:

  • How many symptoms you experience
  • Which types of mood episodes do you experience
  • How long do these episodes last for
  • How often do these episodes occur
  • How many mood episodes you’ve had
  • How these symptoms impact your life

They may also ask:

  • About your family history
  • Check up on your physical health. For example, conditions like thyroid problems can cause mania-like symptoms
  • Your doctor may also ask you to keep a diary of your moods, to help you both identify potential triggers and patterns. 

Your GP is unable to diagnose you with bipolar disorder, only a mental health professional like a psychiatrist can. It can be a good first step to discuss your symptoms with your doctor, if you have not yet been diagnosed.

How long will diagnosis take?

Your doctor may want to observe you for a while and not make a diagnosis straight away. This is because bipolar disorder involves changes in your mood over time. Your doctor will want to be careful that they give you the correct diagnosis.

It is not easy to define and they can get it wrong from time to time, this is where you need to try and be honest with your answers. Doctors will never judge you, they are trying to help you so do not feel embarrassed or ashamed. 

Bipolar disorder has some symptoms in common with other mental health problems, such as:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Because of these similarities, it can take years to be correctly diagnosed. This is not uncommon and as mentioned above, help them to help you by staying honest with your answers and symptoms. This can help to correctly diagnose you, quicker and more efficiently.

Challenges with getting a diagnosis

As we mentioned above, these symptoms can be similar to other mental health problems and professionals do not always get it right, it can take years to correctly identify someone apart from someone suffering with depression to someone experiencing bipolar disorder.

Because of this, you might:

  • Not get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when you feel you should have.
  • Disagree with the diagnosis, for example being told you have depression when you feel it could be bipolar disorder.
  • Get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder you feel may be something different.

Even if you think you have been correctly diagnosed, you may feel it does not completely match your symptoms. Remember, if you are unhappy or unsure about your diagnosis, it is important to discuss this with your doctor.

You can always ask for a second opinion, make sure your voice is heard and discuss your feelings.

If you drive…

You need to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. View their latest policy here regarding driving with a medical condition.

Get support

Talk with a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings with out free counselling and private counselling service for people over the age of 18.

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