What Can I Learn from Taking a Bipolar Test?

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Bipolar disorder, for many who experience it, is sort of like a slow-moving roller coaster: there are ups, there are downs, but there are also periods of in-between or seeming normalcy that can make peaks feel all the more disorienting and out of control.

Living with bipolar disorder is no easy task, especially if you’ve not received an appropriate diagnosis or started a treatment plan. If you suspect you may be experiencing bipolar disorder symptoms, it may benefit you significantly to take some time to reflect upon, and then act on, your experiences with the support of an online therapist.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that results in extreme shifts in mood. This includes emotional highs (mania or hypomania) at one point and lows (depression) at other periods. The disorder was formerly called manic depression but has since been updated to more accurately describe the disorder and distinguish it from other mental illnesses.

During bouts of bipolar depression or low points, those with bipolar disorder may experience feelings of sadness, helplessness, and a loss of interest in activities, even those that used to be enjoyable. When one’s mood shifts to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), one may feel full of energy, euphoric, or unusually irritable. These mood swings can have a serious impact on one’s life, affecting sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly. People with bipolar disorder may have trouble managing everyday tasks at work, school, or even maintaining relationships.

Mood swing episodes may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any. Bipolar depression typically lasts at least two weeks. Other times, a high (manic) episode can last for several days or weeks.

How Common is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is not a rare mental health condition. 2.8 percent of U.S. adults — or about 5 million people — have been diagnosed with it. It typically develops during the teen years or early adulthood. The average age for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder is around 25 years old.

Although bipolar spectrum disorders are lifelong conditions, it’s possible to manage mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan. In most cases, bipolar disorder is successfully treated by psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and sometimes anti-anxiety medications.

Why Take a Diagnosis Test?

If you suspect you may have bipolar disorder, it can be very validating and beneficial to further explore your symptoms. Taking a bipolar self-test or an official diagnostic exam can give you important insight into just how bipolar disorder impacts your life.

Numerous resources meant to “test” whether or not an individual has bipolar disorder (or other mental health issues) exist online, but it’s important to note that these sorts of tests do not replace professional testing and are unable to diagnose bipolar disorder on their own.

They can be a good way to become familiar with various symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and reflect upon how your experiences have affected your well-being. The more you can understand your potential bipolar disorder, the better; having a lot to share with your doctor or therapist will likely make the diagnostic and treatment process easier.

Regardless, if you’d like to take a bipolar disorder test, your first step should be to seek out a licensed healthcare professional. Once you’ve expressed your concerns, you and your professional can begin exploring what sort of testing might be appropriate as a diagnostic tool.

Screening Tests

A screening test is done to detect potential health disorders or diseases in people who do not have any symptoms of disease or a mental health condition.

The goal of screening is early detection and lifestyle changes or surveillance. This helps reduce the risk of disease or detect it early enough to treat it most effectively. They are not considered diagnostic but are instead used to identify a subset of the population who should have additional testing to determine the presence or absence of disease.

The most common screening test for Bipolar Disorder is the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ), though there are many other tests that mental health providers use. Typically a bipolar disorder test will ask the participant a variety of questions to determine if an individual is experiencing symptoms of manic or depressive episodes.

Be sure to consult a licensed mental health professional regarding the appropriate timing and frequency of the screening test based on age, overall health, and medical history. It’s important to answer each question carefully and thoroughly. Before one’s appointment, it’s helpful to make a list of:

  1. Any symptoms one has had, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for the appointment.
  2. Key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  3. Questions to ask the doctor.

Ruling Out Other Medical Conditions and Disorders

When working on a diagnosis for bipolar disorder, the usual method most professionals follow is first to rule out other medical conditions or disorders.

To understand the condition better, the healthcare provider will:

  1. Perform a physical exam.
  2. Order tests to check blood and urine.
  3. Order for a psychological evaluation to understand moods and behaviors.

If the healthcare provider does not find a medical issue or cause, they may refer the patient to a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. A mental health professional may prescribe a treatment plan to treat the condition. A psychologist can also teach techniques to help recognize and manage shifts in mood.

Getting a proper diagnosis may take multiple sessions or examinations. The symptoms of bipolar disorder tend to overlap with those of other mental disorders and mental health issues, like anxiety, so professionals need to do their due diligence and rule out any other concerns.

Explaining Symptoms

Having a good feel for what sort of concerning symptoms you’re experiencing can help speed up how long it takes to receive an accurate diagnosis. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the following symptoms before your visit.

Mania and Hypomania

Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of episodes, but they have the same symptoms. Mania is more severe than hypomania and causes more noticeable problems at home, work, school, or related social activities. The individual may also face difficulties in maintaining and managing personal and professional relationships. Mania may also trigger a break from reality (psychosis) and require hospitalization.

Both a manic and a hypomanic episode include three or more of these symptoms:

  • Abnormally upbeat, elated, or jumpy
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased distractibility
  • Heightened activity, energy, or agitation
  • An exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence or a feeling of euphoria and great optimism
  • Poor decision-making — for example, making impulsive decisions/investments, going on buying sprees, or engaging in risky sex
  • Decreased need for sleep

Major Depressive Episode

A major depressive episode includes severe symptoms that cause noticeable difficulty in day-to-day activities. This affects almost all areas of life, including work, school, social activities, or relationships.

An episode may include the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood; feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or tearful (in children and teens, a depressed mood can appear as irritability)
  • Marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all or almost all activities
  • Either insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Either restlessness or slowed behavior
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain. There may be a decrease or increase in appetite (in children, failure to gain weight, as expected, can be a sign of depression)
  • Feelings of great self-doubt, worthlessness, and/or excessive and inappropriate guilt
  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness

What are the potential results of screening for bipolar disorder?

There are four types of bipolar disorder an individual may be diagnosed with, and each has slightly different criteria, as outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For these to be diagnosed, the criteria have to be filled for at least one episode of mania. The psychiatrist, therapist, or psychologist will help identify the type of bipolar disorder based on their psychological evaluation exams.

  1. Bipolar I Disorder is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days or manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  2. Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder is defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode or a depressive episode.
  4. Sometimes a person might experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the three categories listed above, which are referred to as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.”

The symptoms of the episodes also should not be attributable to schizophrenia or other mental health problems falling under the category of a psychotic disorder or schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

What does treatment look like?

The best way to manage bipolar disorder and its symptoms are long-term treatment. Healthcare providers usually prescribe a combination of psychotherapy and at-home therapies.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a key part of treating bipolar disorder. It involves the use of psychological methods to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. It can be carried out in an individual, family, or group setting.

Some psychotherapies that may be helpful include:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is used to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replaces them with healthy, positive ones. CBT can help identify what triggers your bipolar episodes. You may also learn effective strategies to manage stress and cope with upsetting situations.
  • Psychoeducation is used to teach the patient and his/her loved ones more about bipolar disorder to help one make better decisions about care and treatment.
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy is used to help one create a consistent daily routine for sleep, diet, and exercise. A consistent routine allows for better mood management. People with bipolar disorder may benefit from establishing daily rhythms and routines.
  • Talk therapy is used to help you express your feelings and to discuss your issues in a face-to-face setting.
  • Family-focused therapy uses family support and communication to help you stick with your treatment plan and help you and your loved ones recognize and manage warning signs of mood swings.

Medication

Several different medications are typically prescribed to help with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medication may include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Antianxiety medications may also be prescribed in some cases, as anxiety is a common comorbid condition in individuals with bipolar disorder. Always consult with your healthcare professional before starting or stopping the medication.

Lifestyle Changes

There are several steps you can take to create lifestyle changes that can help stop cycles of behavior that make bipolar disorder worse.

Here are some steps to take:

  1. Avoid substance use: One of the biggest concerns with bipolar disorder is the negative consequences of risk-taking behavior, including using harmful or addictive substances.
  2. Surround oneself with healthy relationships: Keep people who are a positive influence close to you. Friends and family members can provide support and help you watch for warning signs of mood shifts.
  3. Create a healthy routine: Having a routine for sleeping, eating and physical activity can help balance your moods.
  4. Eat a healthy diet and try sleeping properly: These both go a long way in terms of regulating mood and helping your body feel in touch with your mind.
  5. Consider keeping a mood chart: Keeping a record of daily moods, treatments, sleep, activities, and feelings may help identify triggers, effective treatment options, and when treatment needs to be adjusted.

Am I Bipolar?

If you or your loved ones are facing bipolar disorder or are interested in learning more about the condition, help is available. You can make use of multiple online resources like BetterHelp (for adults) or TeenCounseling (for those under 18).

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