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What Is Bipolar Screening?

Bipolar tests of any kind are not intended to substitute for an in-depth diagnosis by a mental health professional.
It may take years for a person with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed and treated.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
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Bipolar screening can refer to a number of tests, either self-administered or administered by a mental health professional or doctor that can suggest a person has a condition on the bipolar spectrum. This means they might suffer from cyclothymia, possibly agitated depression, bipolar II, or bipolar I. These tests screen, admitting the possibility of the presence of a bipolar disorder, but they do not completely diagnose. They may be a good diagnostic tool at onset of depression to differentiate depressive or anxious disorders from bipolar disorders, which can frequently get missed.

Most bipolar screening tests evaluate for significant differences in mood. To look for mania or hypomania, tests may ask people to comment on the frequency of actual sex or desire for sex, the presence of racing thoughts, the degree to which sudden anger occurs, the amount of pessimism/optimism they show, the amount of time they are both depressed and anxious (mixed moods), and about feelings that suggest very elevated mood or ego at times. Depression questions might inquire about anger, dark moods, inability to do anything, and other states.

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There are many potential bipolar screening tests to take or to have administered by a mental or other health professional. They can be important because of failure to sometimes accurately diagnose bipolar. Especially when people do not have manic states or bipolar I, and instead have cyclothymia or bipolar II, it may not be particularly evident that what is occurring is rapid changes in mood. A hypomanic state, common in bipolar II, can just look like a good mood or momentary recovery from depression. This can be confusing and lead to years of improper diagnosis and failure to recover from an illness.

Nevertheless, a bipolar screening is not necessarily completely accurate. The test may fail if people do not perceive their problems or cannot assess themselves in an honest way. It is only one way, a screening tool, for catching the condition. Other diagnostic tools are highly important and these include assessment of a person’s condition over a longer duration of time their and response to medications.

On the other hand, this “screen” proves valuable for a very specific reason. Medications for depression and medications for bipolar can be significantly different from each other. While some medications, like atypical antipsychotics, are used in both conditions, antidepressants are not at all the same as a class of drugs known as mood stabilizers. In the person with true bipolar, antidepressants may prove as match to the powder keg, fueling manic or hypomanic states and representing extreme danger to a person. Having a bipolar screening to rule out this possibility or to confirm the condition can be valuable in medication management and quicker healing.

There are a couple of bipolar screening tests online that are considered quite reputable. These include the Goldberg Bipolar Testing Screening Questionnaire, which is found on multiple sites. If the test suggests likelihood of this disorder, people should get in touch with their psychiatrist or therapist. Another way to get bipolar screening is by asking a therapist, doctor or psychiatrist to perform a screening test. These may be more comprehensive and they have the advantage over self-tests of immediate access to care to address the issue of a positive or suggestive result.

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