Is There a Bipolar Test That Can Diagnose Me?

Michelle Overman LMFT
October 3, 2018

The short answer is: Not really. However, let’s take a few steps back and talk about Bipolar in general. The term bipolar is one of those commonly used as a descriptive term. When someone says, “I’m feeling depressed,” it could mean they legitimately have clinical depression or it could me they are feeling down or kind of blue. Bipolar is another term used in that way. A person can describe someone else as “bipolar” and it could mean they have bipolar disorder or it could mean they are moody. For this reason, the term bipolar can be misunderstood. The common thought is that if someone’s mood changes rapidly and often, they are bipolar. In reality, that is only just a part of the diagnosis. There is so much more to Bipolar Disorder and certain criteria that people have to exhibit for a certain period of time before they can receive a diagnosis. There are even different types mood disorders under the bipolar umbrella like Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, and Cyclothymic Disorder. There are other distinctions beyond even those like having Bipolar I Disorder with “Mixed Features” or Rapid-cycling. The reason it is important to understand some of this is to realize bipolar is not very cut and dry. As with any mental health issue or potential mental disorder, it is extremely vital to receive a formal diagnosis from a professional. Not only does it involve more complex criteria than most people realize, for effective treatment, someone with Bipolar Disorder should be monitored by a professional.

Bipolar Disorder

All of that being said, it may be helpful for a person to understand some of the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder as they process through whether or not they might need to seek professional help. Here are the criteria for Bipolar Disorder (taken directly from the DSM-5):

  • The occurrence of 1 or more manic or mixed episodes (a mixed episode includes having both a manic and a depressive episode)
  • Specific period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, and increased goal-directed activity or energy lasting ≥1 week (any duration if hospitalized), present most of the day, nearly every day
  • During the mood disturbance and increased energy or activity, ≥3 (or 4 if irritable mood only) of the following:
    • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity (impractical sense of superiority)
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Pressured speech (speaking rapidly or urgently for unknown reasons)
    • Racing thoughts or flight of ideas (jumping from one idea to the next without train of thought)
    • Distractibility
    • Increased activity
    • Excess pleasurable or risky activity
  • The presence of these episodes or behaviors is not due to a substance or medical condition

Even reading through the criteria, that only scratches the surface. Someone would have to also understand the criteria for a manic and depressive episode.

There is a brief screening someone could take online. It is called The Mood Disorder Questionnaire. It is brief but can give someone an idea if they might have Bipolar Disorder. Websites like Mental Health America provide free access to this screening. Depending on how you answer, it can potentially prompt further assessment. It can be a helpful tool for screening only and not for diagnosing.

Bipolar Disorder can be difficult to diagnose for even trained professionals due to the different ways it manifests itself in people. While you can take a screening or even read the criteria for bipolar, it is always important to talk to a professional. After receiving a diagnosis, the encouraging news is that someone with Bipolar Disorder can seek treatment and manage symptoms, living a life they can enjoy.

Michelle Overman LMFT

Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 7 years.