Bipolar Diagnosis & Treatment

Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Bipolar disorder can be emotionally draining and interfere with your daily life, so our goal is to help you feel your best throughout your life. At Mercy, we’ll help you diagnose in order to find the right treatment based on your symptoms. Diagnosing bipolar disorder requires different assessments for adults than children. A comprehensive bipolar disorder evaluation for adults may include the following.

Physical Exam

The first step is to consult your Mercy primary care doctor for a physical exam and lab tests to identify any medical issues that could be causing your symptoms.

Psychiatric Assessment

Following your medical examination, your doctor may refer you to a Mercy psychiatrist for a psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist will talk to you about your thoughts, feelings and patterns of behavior. With your permission, family members may also be asked to share their perspectives on your symptoms.

Mood Charting

To help with diagnosis and treatment planning, you may be asked to keep a daily record of your moods, sleep patterns or other symptoms.

Pediatric Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Although the diagnosis of children and teenagers with bipolar disorder relies on the same criteria used for adults, children and teens have different patterns of symptoms and may not exactly match the diagnostic categories. Children who have bipolar disorder often have other mental health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (pediatric ADHD) or behavior problems, which can complicate their diagnosis. The best way to determine if your child has bipolar disorder is to talk to their pediatrician. 

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

After you’ve been diagnosed, your Mercy provider can help find the right treatment for bipolar disorder. Depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have and the severity of your symptoms, your provider may recommend different types of treatment. Our board-certified specialists have experience with bipolar disorder and can help find the right treatment for you.


Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that requires lifelong management. Medication is a common type of treatment for bipolar, however, there are different medications for different symptoms of manic depression. Your medications will likely take some trial and error to determine which type works best for you. Additionally, it's common for people with bipolar disorder to take more than one medication such as taking medication for agitation, anxiety, insomnia or depression. Some common types of medication include:

  • Mood-stabilizing medications Lithium is a mood-stabilizing drug that can help control and prevent depressive and manic episodes. Antiseizure medications like Valproate are also effective in controlling mania. 
  • Neuroleptics – These medications are sometimes classified as antipsychotics, but they are also effective in treating bipolar disorder, mania and depression. 


Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with a variety of mental health disorders including bipolar disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy used for bipolar patients. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more positively.

It’s common to notice fewer symptoms within two weeks of starting therapy, but it may take weeks or months before the condition is completely controlled. Because of this delay, antipsychotic drugs may also be used to help control symptoms.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. ECT has been shown to provide rapid improvement in symptoms associated with severe mania. This type of treatment is especially helpful if medication hasn’t relieved your symptoms.

While not all treatments are available in all areas, Mercy offers a variety of services. Your Mercy behavioral health provider will help connect you with the best possible treatments for the management of your bipolar disorder.

Managing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic health condition that requires lifetime management. It’s possible to live a normal life, but it requires conscious effort. At Mercy, we want to keep you healthy and feeling your best. Physical health is important, but mental and emotional health is just as crucial to your overall well-being. In addition to seeing your doctor and therapist regularly and taking medications as prescribed, you can work on these simple daily habits to positively impact your quality of life.

  • Sleep – Be sure to get the right amount of sleep. Too little can trigger mania but too much can be a sign of depression. Limit caffeine as it can cause insomnia. Talk to your doctor if you have sleep issues.
  • Exercise – In addition to other health benefits, exercise can help you manage stress and stabilize your mood.
  • Eat well – Choosing the right foods can help regulate your energy and overall health. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – Don’t try to self-medicate. Substance use, including nicotine and caffeine, may intensify a mood disorder. Avoid substances particularly during rapid cycling.
  • Monitor stress – Anxiety can worsen your mood so take steps to relax. Meditation, mindfulness and yoga may help. Or relax by listening to music or participating in activities you enjoy with positive people who support your healing journey.

It’s not uncommon for patients who have been in remission to have a reoccurrence of symptoms. Keep in mind that reoccurrence isn’t failure, just a temporary setback. Patients and families should learn to recognize symptom flare-ups and contact their Mercy provider before symptoms worsen.