How bipolar disorder is diagnosed
Many people suffer for years before getting a diagnosis and treatment plan. It can be difficult to recognize bipolar disorder when it begins. The symptoms may seem like a different problem or separate problems. People and their loved ones may also be slow to get help because of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. This is unfortunate, because early intervention helps avoid much of the disruption to people’s lives that can happen, especially during manic phases. If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually gets worse over time.
In some cases, a person who has not previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may be in crisis, such as having thoughts of suicide or a severe manic episode. If you or someone you love is hearing voices, having hallucinations, behaving dangerously, or thinking of suicide or self-injury, please call for help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.
For someone who is not currently in crisis, the first step in getting help is a physical examination. A doctor can rule out other physical problems that may have similar symptoms, such a stroke, heart disease, thyroid disorder, or other conditions.
The next step is a mental health evaluation. A healthcare provider will take a complete history, asking you about your family’s health history, your symptoms, and your mood patterns. The doctor will listen as you describe your thoughts, emotions, and concerns about your health. It is helpful if the doctor can also talk with close family members; he will only do this with your permission.
A healthcare provider will also pay attention to any other conditions that you may have.
Some of the conditions that commonly co-occur with bipolar disorder:
- Addiction and substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and social phobia
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Self-injury, such as cutting
- Thoughts of suicide
Your doctor will be sure to get a complete picture of your health in order help stabilize your moods and work with you on the best possible long-term treatment plan for you.
Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Mayo Clinic; WebMD