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Dr Donna Grant

Page medically reviewed by Dr Donna Grant (BSc, MBBS, MRCPsych) Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterised by extreme mood changes, from manic highs to depressive lows. Understanding these symptoms and seeking a diagnosis can be a life-changing step towards managing the condition.  

Here’s a guide on how to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the UK. 

How to get diagnosed with bipolar 

If you think you’re struggling with bipolar, or know someone close to you who you’re worried about, it’s vital to take those steps towards a diagnosis and secure your long-term mental health.  

It’s normal to have questions about that diagnosis process looks like. We’ve laid it out for you below: 

Understand the symptoms 

Before seeking a diagnosis, it's crucial to learn as much about bipolar as you can. Having a better understanding of the condition will help during the diagnosis process, as well as helping you to better understand yourself and the challenges you face. 

Common symptoms of bipolar include: 

Mania and bipolar disorder 

  • Elevated mood 
  • Irritability over small things  
  • Increased self-confidence  
  • More talkative nature  

Depression and bipolar disorder: 

  • Decrease in self-confidence  
  • Inability to make decisions  
  • Altered sleep patterns 
  • Negative thoughts about life 

Visit your GP or contact a private specialist  

The first step is to approach your local general practitioner (GP). In your appointment, you can discuss the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, the impact it’s had on your life, the medical history of you and your family, and any other relevant factors.  

It’s important to note that your GP cannot give you a diagnosis for bipolar. This needs to be done by a mental health specialist, like a consultant psychiatrist. This would be done in specialist assessment which your GP can refer you into. If your GP thinks you have mania or severe depression, or there is a possibility you could harm someone or yourself, you should get an appointment to see a specialist straight away. 

Otherwise, they may arrange an appointment for you if: 

  • You’ve been experiencing depression and 
  • You’ve ever felt very excited or not in control of your mood or behaviour for at least 4 days in a row 

As an alternative, you can also approach a private provider of mental health service like Priory. They can offer assessment, diagnosis and treatment for bipolar with leading mental health specialists without the need to gain a referral from a GP first.   

Have an assessment  

For your assessment, you’ll meet with a member of a specialist mental health team who are trained in assessing and delivering treatment for people with bipolar.   

The specialist will use the assessment to establish if your symptoms are being caused by bipolar disorder. To do this, they’ll ask you a series of questions that cover your: 

  • Thoughts and feelings 
  • Behaviours and anything you find difficult to do 
  • Relationships with friends and family 
  • Lifestyle 
  • Physical and mental health, specifically if you have any other conditions that might also be playing a role 

Take your next steps  

If, after the assessment, the specialist believes you do have bipolar disorder, they should then begin to draw up a treatment plan that can help you to overcome your condition.  

Effective treatments for bipolar include: 

  • Residential inpatient care: for the most severe cases of bipolar, a stay in a residential inpatient facility, purpose built for people in recovery from mental health issues. This allows you to move away from the stresses and anxieties of normal life and focus fully on overcoming your bipolar.   
  • Therapy: therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT) are designed to recognise any negative thought patterns and behaviour that are contributing to your bipolar, and works to help you develop more positive and sustainable replacements for them. 
  • Medication: certain medication can be used together with other treatments to help manage symptoms and keep you focused on recovery. Common medications used in bipolar include mood stabilisers like Lithum, which helps to regulate the highs and lows of bipolar.   

It should also include some coping strategies for bipolar that can help you manage symptoms as and when they occur, as well as information on what to do if you’re in a crisis.  

Questions you might be asked during a bipolar disorder assessment 

Here are some typical questions you might encounter during your assessment: 

  • Duration and frequency: "How often do you experience episodes of highs and lows, and how long do they typically last?" 
  • Impact on daily life: "How do these mood changes affect your daily activities or relationships?" 
  • Sleep patterns: "Have you noticed any disruptions in your sleep? Do you sleep too much during some periods and too little during others?" 
  • Risky behaviours: "During your 'high' phases, do you engage in risky behaviours or overspend?" 
  • Family history: "Is there a history of mental health conditions in your family?" 

How to prepare for a bipolar assessment 

Any mental health assessment can be a daunting, but ultimately it’s about securing your long-term mental health and ensuring you feel well enough to live your life. To get the most out of your assessment and ensure an accurate diagnosis, consider these tips for preparing as best you can: 

  • Note down what symptoms you’ve experienced, plus any noticeable triggers for them. Your specialist might ask you to continue this as a diary as you enter treatment. 
  • Write down any question you have for your GP or mental health specialist. You want to feel as comfortable and informed as possible after your assessment, so write them down so you don’t forget. 
  • It’s ok to take someone with you to your assessment, for support and reassurance throughout. If you’re under 18, your parent or guardian should be involved in the diagnosis process. 
  • Be honest. Speaking about your mental health and reaching out for treatment is incredibly brave. Well done for getting this far. Just be sure to be honest when speaking to any medical professional. You’re in a non-judgemental environment and any information you say could help get you a more accurate diagnosis and the right treatment. 

Benefits of getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder 

If you have any nerves around attending a bipolar assessment and getting a diagnosis, know that these feelings are absolutely ok and perfectly normal. There are many benefits to taking these steps and receiving a diagnosis: 

  • Personal understanding: knowing you have bipolar disorder can provide clarity. It helps you understand yourself a little better, and puts you on a pathway to better wellbeing. 
  • Tailored treatment plans: once you know the problem, you can receive effective treatment that matches the symptoms. This tailored approach will help you gain control of your condition and overcome it faster. 
  • Support and Community: a diagnosis can be a gateway to a supportive community. Joining support groups or engaging in group therapy can make managing the disorder more navigable. 
  • Preventing Further Complications: early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the disorder from escalating and causing further complications down the line. 
  • Empowerment: while a diagnosis might seem overwhelming initially, in the long run, it empowers individuals. Understanding your condition means you can actively participate in your care, ensuring that you take steps towards a healthier future. 

Bipolar disorder can have a profound impact on your day-to-day life. However, bipolar disorder treatment can help you to manage your symptoms and live your life to the fullest. Treatment for bipolar disorder usually consists of a combination of therapeutic methods, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and carefully controlled medication.  

Get in touch today and find out how Priory can support you to cope with your bipolar disorder.

Get in touch today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020  or submit an online enquiry form here. 

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