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Diagnosis of bipolar disorder

3-minute read

If your doctor suspects that you have bipolar disorder, they will usually refer you to a psychiatrist (a medically qualified mental health specialist).

If there is a risk that you could harm yourself as a result of your illness, your doctor will arrange for you to have an assessment immediately.

Specialist assessment

The psychiatrist will ask you a number of questions to determine whether you have bipolar disorder and, if so, what treatments will be most suitable for you.

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

The psychiatrist will also want to find out about your medical background and family history, to determine 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 or overactive thyroid.

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

Planning for an emergency

If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to discuss your condition with the psychiatrist so you are fully involved in the decisions about your treatment and care.

It is important to have structures in place in times of emergency. These may include a stay well plan, an advanced care directive, or appointing a guardian or a financial manager. These will help you identify the risks and what you can do about them, such as what hospital you agree to go to in an emergency, what medication you will take, and how to protect your assets during a manic phase.

Where to get help

If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more, or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) – online help
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467
  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263
  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018


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