Do I Have Bipolar Disorder?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 21, 2021

Ever feel like your emotional highs are higher than others’, and your lows lower? If so, ask your doctor about a bipolar disorder screening. This condition, also called manic depression, is a condition of extremes. It can run in families. How your brain works and even its structure might figure in, too. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your life and feel more stable.

Your depression goes way deeper than just “feeling down.”

Bipolar depression shows up in different ways for different people. You might have trouble sleeping. Or you might sleep too much, and even find it hard to get up. The smallest decisions can seem huge. Overwhelming feelings of failure, guilt, or deep loss can trigger suicidal thoughts.

Other signs to look for:

  • You feel like you can’t enjoy anything.
  • You find it hard to focus.
  • You eat too little or too much.
  • You’re weary, and your movements seem slow.
  • You’re forgetful.

For a bipolar disorder diagnosis, you must have several depression symptoms that make it hard for you to function every day for at least 2 weeks.

You have bouts of over-the-top energy and excitement.

This is mania. It’s a high that goes way beyond “happy” or “joyful.” Some people have it often, others hardly ever.

Hypomania is a milder form of this feeling. It doesn’t turn into psychosis (lose touch with reality) like mania can, but it’s part of a bipolar diagnosis. You might feel great and get a lot done, but those around you might see changes in your mood and activity levels.

To get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, you must have had at least one manic or hypomanic experience.

Signs of manic behavior include:

  • Your mood isn’t comfortable. It might feel good at first, especially after depression. But it quickly becomes erratic and out of control.
  • Your judgment swerves way off. You take extreme risks. You make bad decisions with no thought for what might happen. For instance, you might spend money recklessly or have risky sex.
  • You get bad-tempered and angry.
  • You feel strung-out or edgy.
  • You find it hard to sleep.
  • You feel like your mind is a freeway. You might talk super-fast and hop subjects, or think you can do too many things at once.

Some episodes can mix mania and depression. For example, you might feel hyper-energetic and full of despair at the same time.

Bipolar disorder runs in your family.

The chance that you’ll have bipolar disorder goes up if your parents or brothers or sisters have it. But it doesn’t always happen that way. For example, studies of identical twins show that one twin might have the illness, while the other doesn’t.

You have another illness such as psychosis, anxiety, ADHD, or a drug or alcohol addiction.

Some bipolar disorder symptoms are a lot like other conditions. They can be hard to separate and diagnose.

For example, mania can feature psychotic symptoms. You might think you’re famous or have superpowers. On the flip side, with manic depression, you might think you’ve ruined your life in some dramatic way.

People with bipolar disorder also can have:

How to Get Help

About 2.6% of the U.S. population have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It usually comes on at about age 25, but it can happen earlier. There are different types, too. Symptoms can happen -- or not happen -- along a wide spectrum.

A “life chart” is a good way to track your moods and help your doctor diagnose whether you have bipolar disorder. You’ll record details about your moods, sleep patterns, and events in your life. If you’re on a manic swing, you might feel “up” and capable, but a look at the big picture will show you how a “down” will follow. The info also will give your doctor a window into your day-to-day -- even hour-to-hour -- life to decide how best to proceed with treatment if needed.

Special phone apps can help you keep up, too. There are quite a few available to help you track your moods, medications, sleep patterns, and more. One even analyzes how you type on your phone: your rhythm and speed, mistakes, corrections, and other dynamics, but not your content. It then uses this data to gauge your mood and predict bipolar episodes. Just remember that these apps don’t take the place of following a treatment plan under your doctor’s care.

How to Treat It

The main ways to treat and manage bipolar disorder include:

  • Medications, like mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and sometimes antidepressants
  • Action plans to educate you about the disorder. These can help you manage it on your own by helping you know when an episode is coming on.
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy
  • Activities that support your treatment, such as exercise and spiritual practices

Show Sources


National Institute of Mental Health: “Bipolar Disorder,” “What is Psychosis?”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Bipolar Disorder.”

The Medical Journal of Australia: “Diagnosis and Monitoring of Bipolar Disorder in General Practice.”

University of Illinois at Chicago: “App Developed at UIC to Track Mood, Predict Bipolar Disorder Episodes.”

International Journal of Bipolar Disorders: “Smartphone-based Objective Monitoring in Bipolar Disorder: Status and Considerations.”

Neuroscience: “The Genetics of Bipolar Disorder.”

Journal of Abnormal Psychology: “Progression along the Bipolar Spectrum: A Longitudinal Study of Predictors of Conversion from Bipolar Spectrum Conditions to Bipolar I and II Disorders.”

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