Information for the public

Assessment and diagnosis

If you have symptoms of bipolar disorder

Your GP may arrange an appointment with a mental health specialist if you have:

  • depression and

  • have ever felt very excited or not in control of your mood or behaviour for at least 4 days in a row.

The appointment is for you to have an assessment to find out whether you have bipolar disorder, or another type of mental health problem. See 'What happens at an assessment' below for more information about assessments.

If your GP thinks that you might have mania or severe depression, or there is a chance that you could harm either yourself or someone else, they should give you the appointment straight away.

If you are aged 17 or under, your appointment may be at a CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service).

What happens at an assessment

At your appointment you will meet with one or more members of a specialist mental healthcare team. You can bring a family member or carer to the appointment with you, if you wish. If you are 17 or under, your parents or carers should be included.

Your care team will do an assessment to find out whether your symptoms are being caused by bipolar disorder. An assessment is a series of questions that the care team will ask you. The questions will be about your thoughts, feelings and the things you do, and about anything that is difficult for you. Your care team will also ask you about your relationships with other people and your lifestyle.

Your care team should check whether you have any other mental or physical health problems. If you have another mental health problem together with bipolar disorder, you should be offered the treatment recommended by NICE, as well as your treatment for bipolar disorder. See other NICE guidance for details of our guidance on antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and psychosis with coexisting substance misuse.

What happens after diagnosis

If the assessment shows that you have bipolar disorder, your care team should check whether there is a chance that you might harm yourself or another person during an episode of mania. They should decide, together with you, which types of treatments might help you the most. They should write down a plan that shows:

  • which treatments you have decided on

  • the best ways to cope if your symptoms get worse

  • what to do if you have a crisis.

Your care team should give a copy of the plan to you and one to your GP, and encourage you to share it with your carers.

If you have harmed yourself or someone else, you should be offered the treatment and support recommended by NICE. See other NICE guidance for details of our guidance on self‑harm, service user experience in adult mental health and violence.

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