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Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, as well as different diagnoses and treatments. Offers information on how you can support someone with bipolar and tips for self-management.

What will my doctor ask me?

To make a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, your doctor will ask you about:

  • How many symptoms you experience
  • Which types of mood episodes you experience
  • How long your mood episodes last for
  • How many mood episodes you've had
  • How often your mood episodes occur
  • How your symptoms impact your life
  • Your family history

They may also:

  • Ask you to keep a diary of your moods to help you both identify patterns and triggers.
  • Check up on your physical health. For example, some conditions like thyroid problems can cause mania-like symptoms.

Only a mental health professional like a psychiatrist can give you a bipolar disorder diagnosis – not your GP.

However, if you're experiencing bipolar moods and symptoms, discussing it with your GP can be a good first step. They can refer you to a psychiatrist, who will be able to assess you.

For more information see our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.

“Once properly diagnosed, I knew the cause. I understood that I was someone with an illness. I was not a failure, not a bad person.”

How long will diagnosis take?

As bipolar disorder involves changes in your moods over time, your doctor may want to observe you for a while before making a diagnosis.

Your doctor will want to be careful that they give you the correct diagnosis. Bipolar disorder has some symptoms in common with other mental health problems, such as:

Because of this, it might take a long time to get a correct diagnosis – sometimes it can take years.

“The trouble with bipolar is that sometimes it can go undiagnosed. You don't go to the doctor to tell them you are feeling extremely happy. That you've got so much energy and can conquer the world (quite literally).”

Challenges with getting a diagnosis

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can overlap with other mental health problems. Different people may experience or express their symptoms in different ways. And professionals do not always get it right.

Because of this, you might:

  • Not get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when you feel you should have one.
  • Get a diagnosis of a different mental health problem, which you don't agree with.
  • Get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that you think is incorrect.

Even if you think your diagnosis is correct, you may still feel that it doesn't completely fit your experiences.

If you are unhappy or concerned about your diagnosis, it's important to discuss this with your doctor.

You can make sure your voice is heard, seek a second opinion and take steps if you're not happy with your doctor. For more information, see our pages on:

“I was diagnosed with BPD first because of the overlap in symptoms between bipolar 2 and BPD.”

This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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