To diagnose a person as being bipolar the doctor first must determine if the problems are from a different condition. Just because a person has mood swings it does not mean they are bipolar. There are a number of bipolar related disorders that have mood disorders as a primary symptom.
Bipolar disorder is the most serious of the mood disorders and usually requires medical treatment to control effectively. Problems with moods must be examined to find out if the symptoms exist because of personal problems that may just require treatment from a psychologist.
There are several mood disorders that can appear as bipolar. These include Borderline Personality Disorder – treatable through therapy and not through medications as this is not from a chemical imbalance. Borderline Personality Disorder is a disorder of unstable moods which can include anger, depression, and anxiety. The mood states can last for a few minutes to a few hours. Triggers for these moods are usually obvious and explained such as a traffic jam, dropping an object by accident, or missing an appointment. A person with bipolar usually has mood changes that appear to have no obvious reason.
Another possible non-bipolar mood disorder is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder stems from experiencing things like being a witness to a murder, seeing a horrible accident, or a traumatic natural disaster like a hurricane. Often the reaction to the traumatic event is delayed and re-triggered from reminders in day-to-day activities. This can result in the anger and depression common with bipolar disorder.
A third disorder is Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a depression triggered by a change in seasons, usually the onset of winter.
Other disorders can include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Intermittent Explosive Disorder.
There are many mood disorders that are not bipolar – seeing a general practitioner or psychologist will help diagnose a mood problem as bipolar or a less severe mood disorder.