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Diagnosis - Bipolar disorder

If your GP thinks you may have bipolar disorder, they'll usually refer you to a psychiatrist.

If your GP or a family member is worried you are at risk of harming yourself you'll be referred as an emergency.

Specialist assessment

The psychiatrist will ask you a few questions to find out if you have bipolar disorder.

If you do have bipolar disorder, they'll decide what treatments are the best ones for you.

The psychiatrist will ask about your symptoms and when you first experienced them. They will ask about how you feel before and during an episode of mania or depression. They will also ask if you have thoughts about harming yourself.

The psychiatrist will want to know about your medical background and family history. They will ask if any of your relatives have had bipolar disorder.

If someone else in your family has the condition, the psychiatrist may want to talk to them. They will ask for your permission before doing this.

With your permission, the psychiatrist may want to talk to your family to get your family history and medical background.

Interviews without your permission can only happen if there is an immediate risk to your life or someone else’s life.

More tests

Depending on your symptoms, you may need tests to see if you have a physical problem such as an underactive thyroid or overactive thyroid.

You may also need to have a brain scan and other tests to measure activity in your brain.

If you have bipolar disorder, you'll need to visit your GP regularly for a physical health check. This is to monitor any effect medicine may have on your kidney or thyroid.

Planning your treatment

If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it's important to talk to your psychiatrist. It will help you to be involved in decisions about your treatment and care.

These are not legally binding in Ireland. But it's useful to plan what type of treatment you would prefer if you have a relapse. All treatments are developed to prevent a relapse (getting ill again).

If your symptoms become severe you may not able to make an informed decision about your care, or communicate your needs. If this happens, it may be possible to draw up an advanced directive.

Making an advanced directive

This is a set of written instructions which you draw up before your condition gets worse. You can use these instructions to state what type of treatment and help you want (or do not want). This is in case you cannot communicate your decisions at a later stage.

Your GP or psychiatrist can give you further help and advice.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025