Which Bipolar Screening Tests And Tools Work Best?

By Toni Hoy

Updated February 24, 2020

Reviewer Kelly L. Burns, MA, LPC, ATR-P

Do you, or someone you know, feel overly excited at times to the point that you seem to have endless energy, even without having much sleep? Just when you feel like you or your loved one is at the top of the rollercoaster, and you feel elated, do you spiral down into a period of deep, dark depression? Do the dark days make you feel lethargic and hopeless? If these situations sound familiar and they're interfering with your sleep, your ability to take care of daily tasks, and your relationships, you may have a brain condition called bipolar disorder.

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Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes extreme emotional highs and lows without reason or warning.

Before going any further, it's important to know that the extreme lows or depressive states can sometimes accompany suicidal thoughts. If you or someone else is participating in reckless behavior or having thoughts about taking your life, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room. Mental health crisis counselors are specially trained in helping people feel safe and be safe until their brain can stabilize. Don't hesitate to seek help and don't wait.

We tend to be fearful around things that we don't know much about. In past decades, many people commonly referred to bipolar disorder as manic-depressive disorder. What makes it so scary is that it causes unusual and unpredictable behavior in otherwise reasonable people. The good news is that bipolar disorder comes with recognizable symptoms, and the condition can be stabilized with the right treatment or combination of treatment options.

What Do Researchers And Scientists Know About Bipolar Disorder?

Many studies have been done to help doctors understand the working of the brain in people that live with bipolar disorder. Doctors learned enough about how to diagnose and treat the condition that the results are better than they used to be. Researchers have not determined the exact cause of the bipolar disorder, and studies on the issue are ongoing.

Researchers know that bipolar disorder is a long-term condition that often has a genetic component. It's usually diagnosed later in adolescence or early adulthood.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 2.8% of adults over the age of 18 were diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017. This statistic was based on data from diagnostic interviews from the National Comorbidity Survey Republican. The percentage for females was 2.8%, and the percentage for males was slightly higher, at 2.9%. NIMH estimates that 4.4% of adults in the United States have bipolar disorder at some time in their lives.

According to the Sheehan Disability Scale, the degree of impairment of adults with bipolar disorder in 2017 ranged from moderate to serious. About 82.9% of the interviewees reported having a serious impairment, which is the highest percentage of impairment of all mood disorders. Only 17.1% of the interviews described their condition as moderate impairment.

In reviewing statistics for adolescents, data from the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement indicates that about 2.9% of adolescents aged 13-18 were diagnosed with bipolar disorder with 2.6% describing symptoms as severe. Diagnoses were made according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). The statistics show a slightly higher rate for female adolescents at 3.3% and only 2.6% for adolescent males.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has bipolar disorder, it's important to get a bipolar assessment, accurate diagnosis, and treatment as soon as possible to continue the best quality of life.

Is There More Than One Type of Bipolar Disorder?

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One area where researchers have made progress in understanding the disorder is being able to categorize the disorder into four distinct types. A bipolar personality test will help to get it right. The criteria for each one is slightly different. Here's a snapshot of a description of each of the four types.

  1. Bipolar I-this is the most severe type of bipolar disorder. Symptoms in this category last for at least seven days, and they're so severe that the problem requires immediate attention by a mental health professional. The symptoms last for at least two weeks, and they can be interspersed with bouts of mania.
  2. Bipolar II-symptoms in this category are less extreme than bipolar I disorder; although they can be severe at times and also alternate with symptoms of mania.
  3. Cyclothymic-symptoms are categorized as hypomanic, and they alternate with depressive episodes for at least two years in adults and one year in adolescents.
  4. Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders-this is a valid category for symptoms that are severe but don't line up with the other three categories.

Bipolar screening is often the first tool that people and professionals use to diagnose bipolar disorder. As you can see from the symptoms listed above, getting a proper diagnosis is a little bit tricky. People are more likely to conduct a self-test when they're depressed than when they're manic, so the results may falsely indicate a state of depression. It's best to leave that up to a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist based on their professional examination.

What Is Involved In Getting A Bipolar Disorder Screening Test?

A mental health professional can give you a bipolar screening test in their office. For those who want to get an idea of what the results might show, there are plenty of reputable online screening tests that will give you some idea of whether you need to see a professional therapist.

Here are a few online tests for you to consider:

Another common questionnaire is called the Mood Disorder Questionnaire.

Bipolar screening questions may be asked in various ways, but typically they'll cover questions about emotions, behavior, and energy. Topics may include:

  • Episodes of mania
  • Episodes of depression
  • Whether you can work
  • If you participate in activities
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Fatigue, sleep problems or insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Cycles of mood swings
  • Changes in energy level
  • Trouble focusing, the mind feels all over the place
  • Thoughts of suicide

What Are Other Tests Appropriate For Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder?

It may seem odd, and perhaps a little frustrating that the first step in diagnosing the bipolar disorder is to schedule a comprehensive physical examination. There are very good reasons for this. It's crucial to rule out any physical problems that may be the cause of emotional dysregulation.

A physician will conduct a physical examination, check your vital signs, and test your blood and urine. They'll also ask about the history of your symptoms, take a brief family history, ask about other illnesses or other health conditions, and any medications that you're currently taking.

If all of those things check out well, the doctor may ask a few questions about your moods and behaviors and perhaps do an initial mental health screening. When it's warranted, the doctor will refer you to see a psychiatrist, therapist, or both for an appropriate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

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How Professionals Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

Mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) as the criteria for properly diagnosing bipolar disorder. Be aware that it can be a bit confusing even for mental health professionals to properly diagnose bipolar disorder. This is because many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder overlap with symptoms of other mental health disorders. A good mental health professional will want to get it right. Bear in mind that getting a proper diagnosis may take at least a few sessions, so be patient with your doctors and therapists.

In fact, many mental health professionals like to have their patients start a journal where they can document their moods and behavior. This makes it easier for doctors and therapists to look for patterns of moods and behavior, which will lead them to the correct disorder and the correct category of the disorder. Journaling is a common way to help test for bipolar disorder.

Here are the DSM criteria for the four categories of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I Disorder

  • At least one manic episode or mixed (manic and depressive) episodes. Bipolar I disorder may also include a major depressive episode that isn't attributable to a medical condition or substance abuse.

Bipolar II Disorder

  • One or more severe major depressive episode with at least one hypomanic episode. This type doesn't have mania, but there may be incidences of mixed episodes. People with these symptoms are a little better able to function than people with bipolar I disorder.


  • Changing low-level depression along with times of hypomania. Symptoms must be present for at least two years before a diagnosis is accurate. This category may have periods of a month or two without any symptoms at all.

Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)

  • Bipolar symptoms that don't fit the other categories. Includes multiple hypomanic episodes without a major depressive episode.

A person is said to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder when they have at least four episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within a year.

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Which bipolar screening tool for bipolar disorder works best? One tool doesn't stand above the rest. What helps the most in diagnosing and treating any category of bipolar disorder is getting matched with the right therapist at BetterHelp. Making that connection is the best first step to overall better mental health.

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