How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

Team Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder (BPD) is sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, as is characteristic of the extreme mood shifts that are a large part of this condition. For many years, doctors were not sure how to fully understand this mental health disorder - and that meant difficulty in feeling confident about an accurate diagnosis. 

As more research has been done, more and more is being discovered about BPD - which means diagnosis and treatment are becoming much easier, too. Because standard blood tests and physical exams cannot offer much help for conditions of the mind, it is up to doctors to be equipped with the tools and resources to make a proper diagnosis. 

Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Episodes of mania and depression are a huge part of bipolar disorder. One’s mood can change drastically, from one end of the spectrum to another -- while feeling normal in between. These episodes can impact energy levels and the ability to function normally day-to-day. They can impact work life, home life, interpersonal relationships, and more. Most commonly BPD develops before the age of 20 - though it may not be diagnosed until much later. 

Symptoms of mania include: 

  • Racing thoughts
  • Happy or excited feelings
  • Grandiose ideas 
  • Fast speaking
  • Increased confidence
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Irritable
  • Insomnia
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors, such as substance use, gambling, promiscuity, etc.
  • Making irrational decisions

Symptoms of depression include:

  • No energy, fatigue, feeling tired all the time
  • Hopeless, negative thought patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Sleeping too much
  • Eating too much or not eating much at all
  • Worthless feelings
  • Thoughts/attempts of suicide 

While not as common, some people may experience hallucinations and delusions with their bipolar disorder. 

How Bipolar Disorder is Diagnosed

Diagnosing bipolar disorder involves a couple of steps. Because doctors want to be sure they know what condition they are dealing with so that it can be treated properly, a thorough approach is often taken. These often include a medical exam, a mental health/psychiatric assessment, and mood charting. 

Medical Exam 

A medical doctor will perform a physical exam with lab work. While this cannot diagnose BPD, it can rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the symptoms and behaviors.

Mood Charting 

Because bipolar disorder deals with extreme mood swings, it is important to monitor them. By asking patients to chart their moods over a period of time, they can gain better insight. 


A mental health professional can make a diagnosis based on the signs that are being exhibited and how they are defined within the DSM-V. A psychiatric assessment is often the most helpful way to reach a diagnosis after medical conditions have been ruled out. 

During the assessment there will be lots of questions about mental illness personally and within one’s family. These questions may move into one’s ability to reason, maintain relationships, steadily maintain responsibility, behavior patterns, thoughts, feelings, and more. 

Through dialogue, mental health professionals are able to gain a deeper look at the patient and how the thoughts/behaviors relate to the specific criteria found in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic tool, the DSM-V 

The help of all of these things put together allows doctors to correctly diagnose bipolar disorder and begin developing a treatment plan to get it under control. 

Seek Help for Bipolar Disorder at South County Psychiatry

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder - or seems to be struggling - South County Psychiatry can help. We offer a wide range of treatment options with personalized goals designed for each patient. 

Learn more by calling our office at 401-268-5333. Or request an appointment online.