Bipolar symptoms usually start during the teenage years or early adulthood although it can be years before the disorder is correctly diagnosed. The disorder tends to run in families and having a close family member with it significantly increases a person's risk of developing it. However, its exact cause is still not clear and there are multiple factors at work including genetics, brain structure and chemistry, use of drugs and alcohol, and stressful life events.
The behaviors that other people usually notice during a manic episode are talking very fast, behaving impulsively, taking part in high risk behaviors (like excessive drinking, gambling or sexual activity), and staying awake for days at a time. Some typical manic behaviors are spending a lot of money impulsively, driving recklessly at high speeds, getting into fights or getting arrested for disruptive behavior. A recent example of this type of behavior that was very public was Charlie Sheen before and after he was fired from his television show. During severe episodes there may also be symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that others cannot see or hear) or delusions (having false beliefs).
Bipolar disorder cannot be diagnosed through blood tests or imaging of the brain, although these tests can be done to exclude other possible conditions such as a brain tumor or stroke. A trained mental health professional should perform a thorough medical and psychiatric history and mental status examination in order to diagnose bipolar disorder. Information provided by family and friends about a person's past behavior is also important.
A bipolar episode is diagnosed if an individual has manic or depressive symptoms for most of the day almost everyday for at least one or two weeks. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by at least one manic episode while Bipolar II disorder is diagnosed when there has been at least one episode of major depression and at least one hypomanic episode (hypomania is a milder form of mania). A diagnosis of a mixed episode is sometimes made if the duration of the symptoms is shorter.
This simple questionnaire is designed to help you determine if you have symptoms of bipolar / manic depression disorder and could benefit from professional help.