Mental Health Test – How to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder
Over the years, physicians have come so far when it comes to understanding the varying moods in bipolar disorder and coming up with an accurate diagnosis. Just a short time ago, bipolar disorder was being confused with other mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or unipolar depression.
However, with the advancement of the mental health test and a greater knowledge of mental health disorders, physicians are now able to identify the signs/symptoms of bipolar depression, mania, and hypomania- and in most cases, are able to effectively and safely treat the condition using medications.
Most people are used to having blood drawn for special testing or other lab measures to help a physician make an accurate diagnosis. However, most of the time, these lab and imaging tests are not helpful in making a bipolar diagnosis.
The most critical tool in this case is being completely open and honest with your physician about your moods, behaviors, and even lifestyle habits. A physical exam will easily reveal the overall state of a patient’s health- but in order to effectively diagnose and treat bipolar disorder, the physician must hear from the patient about the signs and symptoms they are experiencing.
What Does Your Physician Need to Know: Mental Health Test
The only way a bipolar diagnosis can be made is by paying close attention to the symptoms, as well as their frequency, length, and severity. Just because a patient is having “mood swings” from one day (or moment) to the next does not indicate that they are experiencing bipolar disorder.
The diagnosis of bipolar disorder hinges on having periods of time when you are extremely euphoric or extremely irritable. In addition, you will experience an increase in your energy, sleeplessness, and think/talk fast. Your physician will take note of your symptoms and use criteria from the latest release of the DSM, or Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In order to make an official bipolar diagnosis, your physician or mental health professional is going to ask some questions about your personal & family history of mental illness, bipolar, and other mood disorders. Since bipolar can have a genetic component, family history is key to making an accurate diagnosis. However, you must also keep in mind that most people who have bipolar do not have a family history of the condition.
In addition, the physician is going to ask you some questions about your symptoms. These questions may include your reasoning, ability to express yourself, ability to maintain your relationships, and your memory.
Do Other Illnesses Mimic the Symptoms Bipolar?
In some cases, mood swings and impulsive behaviors reflect psychiatric issues besides bipolar, including the following:
- Anxiety disorders, such as PTSD
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Conduct disorders
- Developmental disorders
- Impulse control disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
Psychosis, such as hallucinations and delusions can occur in bipolar disorder as well as other conditions including schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. Additionally, individuals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have increased psychological issues such as anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Other issues, such as personality disorders or substance abuse can complicate the presentation of an illness and must be treated independently.
There are some signs and symptoms of non-psychiatric conditions, including HIV & other infections, thyroid conditions, syphilis, and lupus that mimic bipolar disorder. This can lead to further complications in diagnosing and determining the proper treatment.
Some other issues closely resemble mania, but have causes besides bipolar disorder. One example is mood/behavioral changes that are the result of steroid medications such as prednisone.
What to do Before Seeing Your Physician about Bipolar Disorder
Before you make an appointment with your physician to clarify your diagnosis, it can be beneficial to write down your signs and symptoms that could be reflective of mania, hypomania, or depression.
Make sure to focus on other things such as changes in your behavior, energy, sleep, speech, and thinking. You should also gather a family history from your relatives before you meet with your physician- this can be helpful in supporting a suspected diagnosis and determining the proper treatments.
You might also want to consider bringing your spouse or other close family member (or close friend) along with you. Many times, they may be more aware of your behaviors and be able to describe these to the physician. Before your visit, consider and write down the following:
- Sleep habits
- Anything causing you stress
- Current & past medications (including all supplements)
- Mental/physical health concerns
- Family history of mental illness
- Symptoms you’ve noticed
- Past illnesses
- Unusual behaviors
- Lifestyle habits
- Questions regarding bipolar disorder
Types of Mental Health Test Your Physician Will Use to Make a Diagnosis
Your physician is likely to have you fill out a mood questionnaire/checklist to help with the clinical interview when he/she is assessing your mood symptoms. Additionally, your physician may do some blood or urine testing to rule out other causes including health conditions and drug abuse.
Are Brain Scans/Imaging Testing Used for Diagnosing Bipolar?
While your physician is not going to rely on a brain scan/imaging test to make a diagnosis of bipolar, he may use some neuroimaging tests to make a neurological diagnosis that could be causing psychiatric symptoms. Your physician may order an MRI or CT scan for a patient that has had a sudden change in their behavior, thinking, or mood to make sure that there is not an underlying neurological condition causing it.
What if You Suspect a Loved One has Bipolar Disorder?
If you believe that your loved one is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, take the time to talk to them about your concerns. Ask them if it’s okay to make a doctor’s appointment for them and offer to go with them. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- When you make the appointment, make them aware that this is a new issue and the doctor needs sufficient time for the exam
- In order to make sure you cover all areas, have all concerns written down- be sure that you are specific regarding the symptoms of mania, depression, or hypomania- and be specific.
- Carefully describe any changes in mood- especially aggressiveness, anger, and depression. In addition, include personality changes such as illusions, hallucinations, elation, and paranoia.
- Discuss any alcohol/drug use since that can also cause mood changes that could mimic those of bipolar disorder.
If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing the signs or symptoms of bipolar disorder, be sure to talk with your physician right away. He will be able to do a mental health test that will help with diagnosing and treating your condition.