There’s a vast range of reasons that will cause a person with bipolar disorder to first seek, or be brought to, treatment. Clearly, if someone is experiencing protracted mood symptoms that are causing emotional distress and/or an inability to function at work, home, school, or in social situations, this is a time to seek professional help. This is easier said than done, and accounts for the fact that the vast majority of depression and bipolar disorder goes untreated or undertreated in this country. Or, people turn to other sources, such as drugs and alcohol, in an attempt to dampen their emotional pain.
It can take years to seek help, and indeed the majority of people with bipolar disorder will go years after the onset of symptoms before they first interact with a mental health professional. The most common first presentation to a practitioner will be with symptoms of depression. In other cases, the first contact with a mental health professional may be triggered by a severe mood episode that results in a psychiatric emergency, such as a suicide attempt, or a manic or mixed episode with out-of-control behaviors that involve a call to 911.
In other instances family/friends will convince a person experiencing serious mood symptoms to be seen in the emergency room, local clinic, or crisis center, or by a private practitioner.