Bipolar disorder is a very complicated mental illness that is often misdiagnosed. Only a psychiatrist or other highly qualified professional should be trusted to properly diagnose the disorder. However, if before visiting a psychiatrist you want to assess whether you (or a loved one) may have the condition, here's what to do.
- Get a good overview of the condition. Bipolar disorder has two main phases: extreme "highs" and extreme "lows." Many people have a fluctuation in moods, but in most cases that is a normal part of life. Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is estimated to affect only 1% of the population.
- Establish whether you have a family history of bipolar disorder. Bear in mind that misdiagnosis was common in the early days of psychiatry. Did anyone in your family suffer severe depression? Did anyone commit suicide? The exact cause of bipolar is not entirely understood, but it is known to run in families.
- Keep a mood diary. Avoid using statements like "I feel good today," or "I feel depressed," as they're very subjective. My version of feeling good may be very different to your own. You want to compare your moods based on a scale that is entirely your own. Establish a scale from 1 to 10. On the first day, you may rate your mood as a 5 out of 10. The next day, it'll be easier to rate your mood in relation to the previous day's scale. If you feel better than you did the day before, you might rate your mood as a 6.5 out of 10. If you feel worse than the day before, you might rate it as a 4 out of 10.
- In your mood diary, include your day's activities and your energy level for that particular day. Record how much sleep you got the previous night. Also make a note of whether you had sexual contact that day, or if you found yourself thinking about sex often.
- Once you have a written record to work with (the longer the better) go back and take a look at the activities you did on your "good days." Were you more self-confident than usual? Did you have significantly more energy? Were you able to function on a lot less sleep than you'd normally get? Did you find it difficult to concentrate? Were you easily distracted? You may find that when in a "good mood" you were much more active than usual, that you went on a shopping spree, or socialized a lot more than you normally would. The people around you may have commented that you didn't seem like yourself, or that your speech seemed harried. You may have been accused of being irresponsible, or displaying inappropriate humor, or being overly impulsive.
- On the days when you were feeling low, did you experience low energy, sleep disturbance, disinterest in ordinary activities, and/or lack of libido? Were you indecisive? In the worst moments, did you ever contemplate suicide?
If you suspect you may be suffering from mild or severe bipolar disorder, it is vital to seek professional help as soon as possible. In extreme cases, bipolar disorder can result in complete dysfunction, which affects more than just the sufferer. You may participate in dangerous activities while in a manic phase. And the depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder can (and do) result in suicide. A psychiatrist will be able to diagnose and treat the disorder effectively, by means of mood stabilizers and antidepressants. Most sufferers go on to lead a normal, functional life.