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How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

By September 14, 2022May 13th, 2023Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, episodic mental illness. The Mayo Clinic explains that bipolar disorder “causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression)” with intervals of stable moods. The duration of an episode will vary and can last from days to weeks long. The cause of the bipolar disorder can be attributed to risk factors such as genetics and imbalanced brain chemicals. To be properly treated for bipolar disorder, an individual must be thoroughly evaluated and accurately diagnosed.

The Diagnosis Process

Bipolar disorder is known as a differential diagnosis. A differential diagnosis implies that there are other possible diagnoses, and requires the diagnostician to differentiate between these possibilities to determine the actual diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. To begin the diagnosis process, an individual must undergo a physical exam, including a complete medical history. Although there are currently no laboratory tests or scans used to detect or diagnose bipolar disorder, some tests (e.g., blood tests) may be used in the diagnosis process to check for any other underlying health conditions that may be causing symptoms. If no signs of physical illness are determined, the process continues with an assessment conducted by a mental health professional that specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses (e.g., a psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.). The mental health professional will ask in-depth questions about one’s reported symptoms (e.g., how long they last, how intense they are, etc.), how the symptoms interfere with one’s daily life, will make observations of one’s attitude and behavior, and may use psychological questionnaires to help determine a diagnosis. Mental health experts also rely on the diagnostic criteria provided in the DSM-5, which outline various manic symptoms and depressive symptoms that must be present for a bipolar diagnosis. These symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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