Everything You Need To Know About How To Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Are you concerned that you or someone that you love might have bipolar disorder? You can certainly look out for many signs, such as mood swings, but you can't diagnose bipolar disorder yourself. No matter how much information you look up online, it's going to be imperative to see a doctor so that you can receive an accurate diagnosis. That being said, you can learn a lot about how doctors will go through with diagnosing someone with bipolar disorder. There might be some steps in the process that you are not aware of.

Self reflecting man lying on the floor by a mirror

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to diagnose bipolar disorder. Once you've read this information, you'll understand the type of things that your doctor will need to look at to figure out what is going on. You can't use this information instead of going to the doctor to get diagnosed, but it might help you decide to go in to get help. Bipolar disorder can be a serious condition that makes it tough to get through life in various ways. Even so, you will be able to move forward with the help of professionals who know how to treat you, should you have the condition.

You Might Receive A Physical Assessment

Sometimes doctors will run you through a physical assessment to rule out any other causes of your symptoms. There are physical issues that can cause someone to be irritable and to experience mood swings. Even depression issues can sometimes be linked to material things that are wrong with someone's body. This is likely not going to solve most people's problems, but doctors will perform thorough physical examinations to see what is going on.

Lab tests might be done to see if there is anything unusual going on in your body. For instance, you might not be getting enough of certain crucial vitamins. Making adjustments to your diet or taking certain supplements can sometimes calm mental health issues caused by imbalances like this. If you do have any medical problems that could be causing bipolar disorder symptoms, then you'll be able to get them taken care of. If the doctor cannot find any physical or medical causes, it will be time to move on to the next step.

Psychiatric Assessment

Next, you're going to go through a psychiatric assessment to see how you're doing mentally. Assessments like this involve a psychiatrist talking to you about your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and more. You might be asked to fill out a questionnaire, or you could be asked to discuss the information openly with the assessor.

Psychiatrists have many methods that they can utilize to learn more about how you're doing mentally. Over time, they'll make a thorough assessment of you based on your answers and demeanor during the conversations. Of course, many people feel a bit nervous about the psychiatric assessment, but this is just doctors getting a feel for how you're doing and what might be causing your symptoms.

If a psychiatrist determines that you might have bipolar disorder, they will help you in lots of different ways. Bipolar disorder is a very treatable condition that many people learn to cope with. Some people have bipolar disorder issues that are severe enough to make it tough to handle life responsibilities, but that isn't the case for everyone. Many adults with bipolar disorder can learn to manage with a skilled psychiatrist or therapist's help. Your diagnosis might have a few more steps to get through first, though.

DSM 5 Bipolar Criteria

There is a manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is what psychiatrists will consult when determining whether or not you have bipolar disorder or not. It takes time and observation to determine if someone has DSM-5 bipolar disorder. For someone to be diagnosed with this condition, they will need to meet certain criteria. Those criteria involve the patient experiencing an episode of mania that will last for at least one week. Mania is a term that is used to refer to someone experiencing a period where they have an unusually boosted mood or irritable mood.

Classy young lady sitting on table in room with neon lights

When someone is going through a manic episode, they might experience feelings of inflated self-importance. An individual can suddenly feel as if they're royalty and others are beneath them. Someone who is experiencing a manic episode might feel a decreased need for sleep as well.

They will often have racing thoughts and will be far more talkative than they usually are. It can signify a period of hyperactivity, but someone experiencing a manic episode might also be easily distracted. Often, manic episodes will involve people participating in self-destructive behaviors, too.

For someone to be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, they will need to have experienced a manic episode that lasted for at least one week. This change in mood needs to be present most of the day to be considered mania. There is also something known as hypomania, which is similar but only lasts for four consecutive days for diagnosis purposes. If someone has experienced manic episodes like this, then they can be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It's also important to know that there are different degrees of bipolar disorder that you can be diagnosed with.

Bipolar I disorder is characterized as a mood-swing disorder with psychotic episodes, but not everyone with this disorder has psychotic episodes. Bipolar II disorder involves having alternating manic and depressive episodes that can be less severe than those with Bipolar I disorder. People with Bipolar II disorder are more likely to function in society with few problems so long as they're receiving treatment.

Another type of disorder is bipolar disorder, known as Cyclothymic disorder, which involves shifting between short hypomania and depression episodes. If you have depression that lasts for short periods followed by hypomania periods, you might have that disorder. All of these conditions need to be properly diagnosed by professionals, though.

If you're concerned about whether you have depression or some other type of condition, then taking a depression test online might help you to decide to seek help. Setting up an appointment with your doctor and a psychiatrist can help you to determine the best path to move forward. You can't get this issue under control until you truly know what you're dealing with.

Woman Standing in Front of Brown Wood Plank

Treating Bipolar Disorder

Now that you know a lot more about how bipolar disorder is diagnosed, you'll be able to determine more about how to treat it. If you've met the bipolar diagnostic criteria, then you can start going over options with your doctor. They know how to diagnose bipolar disorder, and they also know the best treatment options for the type of bipolar disorder you might have. Many people find success by taking medications. Some people need antidepressants to help them get through depressive episodes, and others will need anti-anxiety medications. Those who experience psychotic episodes might need anti-psychotic drugs as well.

Lots of people who have bipolar disorder will regularly see psychiatrists to work through their issues, too. It makes it easier for them to get through things, and they can also understand how to cope with their feelings better. Various therapy methods have proven to be helpful to those with bipolar disorder, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. It might not be possible to cure bipolar disorder, but changing how you think about things can make your life better. Working with a psychiatrist over time can make it more likely that you will navigate life problems despite your condition.

Severe Bipolar Disorder Issues

Therapist Comforting Patient

Those who have the worst types of bipolar disorder can have a hard time getting through life. Some people experience depressive episodes that are so powerful that it makes it tough for them to get out of bed at all. Many people with bipolar disorder work through these difficulties and wind up becoming successful professionals, but others will have problems getting everything to work out. Some who have bipolar disorder wind up pursuing disability due to severe mental health complications. This doesn't mean that everyone that has bipolar disorder will need to give up on working and living out their dreams, though.

It's up to you to work with your doctor to figure out the best path forward. If you're going through severe mania and depression episodes, you need help to get back to normal. These things will happen to you over time because of your condition. It's about learning how to cope while also limiting the severity of the episodes. Having a supportive and understanding family will also make a huge difference. It can be tough on both you and your loved ones to go through situations like this, but you can make it through this.