Diagnosing bipolar disorder 

If your GP thinks you may have bipolar disorder, they will usually refer you to a psychiatrist (a medically qualified mental health specialist).

If your illness puts you at risk of harming yourself, your GP will arrange an appointment immediately.

Specialist assessment

You will be assessed by the psychiatrist at your appointment. They will ask you a few questions to determine if you have bipolar disorder. If you do, they will then decide what treatments are most suitable.

During the assessment, you will be asked about your symptoms and when you first experienced them. The psychiatrist will also ask about how you feel leading up to and during an episode of mania or depression, and if you have thought about harming yourself.

The psychiatrist will also want to know about your medical background and family history, especially whether any of your relatives have had bipolar disorder.

If someone else in your family has the condition, the psychiatrist may want to talk to them. However, they will ask for your agreement before doing so.

Other tests

Depending on your symptoms, you may also need tests to see whether you have a physical problem, such as an underactive thyroid or an overactive thyroid.

If you have bipolar disorder, you will need to visit your GP regularly for a physical health check.

Advanced directives

If you are diagnosed with the condition, it's important to talk to your psychiatrist so you are fully involved in the decisions about your treatment and care.

However, a person is sometimes not able to make an informed decision about their care or communicate their needs, especially if their symptoms become severe. If this happens, it may be possible to draw up an advanced decision.

An advanced decision is a set of written instructions that state what treatments and help you want (or don't want) in advance, in case you can't communicate your decisions at a later stage. Your GP or psychiatrist can give you further help and advice.

Page last reviewed: 08/04/2014

Next review due: 08/04/2016