How To Determine If You Have Bipolar Disorder

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D. and Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated July 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by periods of intense highs and intense lows—referred to as “mania” and “depression”, respectively. It’s a mental illness that requires the intervention of a mental health professional to diagnose and treat symptoms. There are various types of bipolar disorder, each characterized by specific groups and frequencies of symptoms. If you suspect you may have this disorder, or if you find yourself asking, “Am I bipolar?” taking an online quiz or filling out a questionnaire can help you gain more clarity on whether you might seek the advice of a professional for evaluation and diagnosis.

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What bipolar disorder is not

Bipolar disorder is one of the major depressive disorders. It often runs in families rather than cropping up unexpectedly, but it can affect just about anyone from any background, age, or gender. There is some stigma associated with this disorder, with the term “bipolar” sometimes being used in a derogatory way to describe someone who has frequent mood swings or whose emotions change easily or frequently.

In reality, bipolar is a clinical disorder that can be well-managed with the right treatment, meaning that those who experience this condition can and do live healthy, functional, autonomous lives. It’s not typically characterized by violent behavior, and its effects may not even be readily apparent to an outside observer. 

The four types of bipolar disorder

Although bipolar disorder is commonly associated with a single set of symptoms, there are actually four types of bipolar disorders: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and “unspecified bipolar and related disorders”, also known as “bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)”. The types are differentiated primarily by the severity of symptoms and are unified by two key symptoms: periods of mania or extreme highs, and depression, or extreme lows, that fall outside what would be considered “typical” fluctuations in emotions. Psychotherapy, medication, or both are common treatments for various types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar I disorder

Bipolar I disorder is considered to be the form with the most intense symptoms. To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, individuals must have at least one episode of many that lasts at least seven days or severe episodes that require the individual to seek emergency medical attention. Depressive symptoms can last up to two weeks at a time. Individuals may also experience warning signs and symptoms of mania or hypomania—a less severe form of mania—and depression simultaneously, which is known as dysphoric mania. 

Bipolar II disorder

Bipolar II disorder falls between bipolar I and cyclothymia in terms of severity. Individuals with a diagnosis of bipolar II have experienced a depressive episode and may experience hypomania, but they typically do not experience the intensity associated with manic episodes that are common with bipolar I. Individuals with bipolar II may experience, instead, periods of unusual productivity, racing thoughts, and difficulty sleeping during hypomanic episodes.

Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymic disorder presents with the least severe symptoms of the various bipolar disorders but still manifests as bouts of both depression and mania. However, these episodes do not cause major disruptions to daily life that the other forms of untreated bipolar disorder often do. Symptoms of both hypomania and depression have to be present for one to two years for someone to be diagnosed with this condition. Cyclothymic disorder is most commonly seen in younger people.

Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)

This type of bipolar disorder does not fall within any of the other three categories. It can be challenging to diagnose because manic symptoms and to treat mania symptoms. Depressive symptoms and a depressed mood may have rapid cycling and may not follow a predictable pattern as they might in the other types of this disorder. This diagnosis may be made when an individual meets some but not all the criteria for bipolar disorder, and when other conditions that might cause similar symptoms have been ruled out by the diagnosing mental health professional. They may then recommend similar treatment methods to those commonly suggested for other types of bipolar disorder.

Are bipolar questionnaires legitimate?

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There are many different online quizzes and questionnaires for various mental disorders including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Some are relatively in-depth, with dozens of detailed questions about behavior, experiences, and symptoms. Others are quick and to the point, asking basic questions to ascertain whether or not symptoms of mania and depression are present. 

It’s important to note that these questionnaires are not a substitute for a professional diagnosis or treatment. Only a qualified health professional can accurately identify bipolar disorder, rule out other potential causes of symptoms, and recommend treatment accordingly. However, quizzes and questionnaires can still be useful for those who suspect they may have some form of bipolar disorder because it can familiarize them with symptoms and encourage them to seek professional attention. To know whether a questionnaire or quiz is legitimate and will divulge accurate information, check to make sure it’s from a reputable source such as Mental Health America or another verifiable and well-known organization.

Although most questionnaires will tackle the two most significant common symptoms—mania and depression—some less well-known symptomatic clusters of bipolar disorder may also be evaluated. For example, these include:

  • Being irritable or having irritability that bursts forth without warning and seems uncontrollable or overwhelming, which may indicate the onset of a depressive episode
  • Racing thoughts, which can be a symptom of a manic episode
  • Difficulty concentrating, or becoming easily distracted, which can happen during a manic episode as a result of the presence of racing thoughts, excitement, or anxiety, or during a depressive episode as a result of apathy or disinterest
  • Sleep changes that can be indicative of either mania or depression
  • Appetite changes, such as feeling too excited to sit down and eat or feeling ravenous during a manic episode, avoiding food due to apathy, or seeking food as comfort during a depressive episode
  • The sensation of a changing personality, such as feeling confident and strong one day and too ashamed to leave the house the next, which can signal the presence of bipolar disorder or some other mental health conditions
Do I have bipolar disorder?

Determining whether or not you have bipolar disorder is not as simple as taking a questionnaire. One reason is that the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be very mild and difficult to recognize, as is typically the case with cyclothymia. In addition, some symptoms of bipolar disorder may mimic those of other conditions. Other mental health conditions may also manifest simultaneously with bipolar disorder, such as anxiety, substance use, or conduct disorders. A mental health professional will have the training and experience to properly interpret your symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis. 

How to seek help for bipolar disorder

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Bipolar disorder is associated with an increase in suicidal thoughts, which is why if you feel that you are exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder—whether you’ve taken an online questionnaire about them or not—the recommended next step is typically to meet with your primary care provider (PCP) or a mental health professional. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7. A PCP can do a physical evaluation to see whether there might be an unaddressed physical health condition that may be causing symptoms and can provide a referral to a mental health professional if not. A mental health professional can do a mental health evaluation to determine whether bipolar disorder and/or other issues may be at play and they can develop a treatment plan.

In cases where severe symptoms are present, it may be best for people with bipolar disorder to meet with a mental health professional in person. In other cases, evaluation and psychotherapeutic treatment can often be done online for those who find this medium to be more convenient and reachable—such as those who are unable to locate a provider in their area or who don’t have opportunities for reliable transportation. Research suggests that online therapy is “no less efficacious” than in-person treatment for a variety of mental health conditions and concerns, which means you may be able to benefit from online treatment if it’s easier or more comfortable for you than seeking in-person care. With a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the symptoms you may be experiencing.

Takeaway

While bipolar disorder questionnaires are not legitimate assessments for officially diagnosing whether or not someone has any type of clinical mental health condition, the results can prompt someone to seek helpful medical attention. If you suspect you may have bipolar disorder or another mental health challenge, meeting with a trained therapist either in person or online may be a wise next step.

Tests can bring up many emotions
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