for better mental health

Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, what kinds of treatment are available, and how you can help yourself cope. Also provides guidance on what friends and family can do to help.

How does a diagnosis get made?

To make a diagnosis your doctor will ask you about:

  • how many symptoms you experience
  • how long your manic or depressive episodes last
  • how many episodes you've had, and how frequently they occur
  • the impact your symptoms have on your life
  • your family history

They may also:

  • ask you to keep a diary of your moods to help them assess you
  • check for any physical health problems, such as thyroid problems which can cause mania-like symptoms

You can only be diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist – not by 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.

"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?

Because bipolar disorder involves changes in your moods over time, your doctor may want to observe you for a while before making a diagnosis. Bipolar disorder also has some symptoms in common with other mental health diagnoses (such as depression, borderline personality disorder (BPD), schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia), so your doctor may want to take care that they diagnose you correctly.

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

What can I do if I disagree with my diagnosis?

If you feel the diagnosis you've been given doesn't fit the way you feel, it's important to discuss it with your doctor. Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem and advocacy provide information on how to make sure your voice is heard, seeking a second opinion and what you can do if you're not happy with your doctor.

"I was diagnosed with BPD first because of the overlap in symptoms between bipolar II and BPD."

This information was published in May 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

Share this information

arrow_upwardBack to Top