Key Takeaways

  • The mood disorder questionnaire (MDQ) is a 17-item tool used to screen people for bipolar disorder. 
  • Although mental health professionals do not use the MDQ to diagnose bipolar disorder, it can help set it apart from other mood disorders and lead to earlier detection and treatment. 
  • Your therapist can give you the questionnaire, or you can complete it on your own. If you have a positive screen for bipolar disorder, you should have a full clinical evaluation from a mental health professional.

A mood disorder is a type of mental health condition that affects your mood and emotional state. Two common categories of mood disorders are depressive disorders and bipolar disorders.

Although each mood disorder is its own separate condition, they often share overlapping symptoms. These common symptoms include extreme moods, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty concentrating. To help make a more accurate diagnosis, mental health professionals sometimes use tools such as the mood disorder questionnaire (MDQ), a screening tool for bipolar disorder.

What is a mood disorder?

Mood disorders like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder are mental health conditions that affect people’s emotions. Each mood disorder has different symptoms, but all can impact daily functioning. People with mood disorders often experience periods of extreme emotional highs and lows. They may also experience ongoing periods of sadness, anger, and stress. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue 
  • Feeling isolated, hopeless, or worthless
  • Thoughts of death 

Mood disorders are relatively common, with research showing that about 21% of U.S. adults experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives. The exact cause of mood disorders is still being studied, but there are several factors that may place people at higher risk. Examples include a family history of mood disorders, experiencing a stressful life event, and having other mental health conditions.

It’s best to identify mood disorders as soon as possible. Learning how to recognize warning signs and risk factors can help connect people with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care to help manage symptoms. Mood disorders can cause tension, stress, and challenges for the person with the condition and those around them, but treatment can help. 

What is the mood disorder questionnaire (MDQ)?

Created in 2000, the mood disorder questionnaire (MDQ) is an instrument used to screen people for bipolar disorder. While the MDQ doesn’t diagnose bipolar disorder, it is a useful tool for helping identify people who may be likely to have the condition and would benefit from an additional assessment. Data suggest that the MDQ can correctly identify 7 out of 10 people with bipolar disorder and 9 out of 10 people without the condition. 

How does the MDQ work? 

The MDQ is a series of questions about mood, behavior, and other symptoms commonly associated with bipolar disorder. It consists of 13 “yes” or “no” questions about possible symptoms. For example: “Has there ever been a period of time when you were not your usual self and you got much less sleep than usual and found that you didn’t really miss it?” There are also two additional questions about presentation and severity of symptoms. 

Your therapist can administer the questionnaire, or you can complete it on your own, which is called self-report. If you’re using the MDQ without the support of a therapist, you may be wondering how to interpret your score. People are more likely to have bipolar disorder if they respond “yes” to seven or more of the questions and describe the concerns as a “moderate problem” or “serious problem.”

As you’re reviewing your results, it’s important to remember your score on the MDQ doesn’t mean you have an official diagnosis. If you think you might have bipolar disorder or another mood disorder, it’s important to meet with a mental health professional for further evaluation and assessment. 

What are the benefits and limitations of the MDQ?

MDQ is an effective tool for identifying and distinguishing bipolar disorder from other mood disorders. This means it can help connect people with an accurate diagnosis sooner. Research suggests that early detection and intervention can change how people’s mood disorders affect them. For example, early phases of bipolar disorder may be more responsive to treatment. This means that identifying the disorder sooner may help reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being. 

Although the MDQ is a widely used screening tool for bipolar disorder, there are some limitations to consider when interpreting the results. Because bipolar disorder shares symptoms with other mood disorders, it’s possible for the questionnaire to produce false positives, meaning it may identify people who don’t actually have bipolar disorder.

Another consideration is that the tool is better at detecting symptoms of bipolar I than bipolar II. Both conditions include extreme highs and lows, but the severity of the symptoms differ. With bipolar II, people’s manic symptoms are less severe and the depressive periods last longer. 

Complementary tools, assessments, and resources

The MDQ is a useful tool for narrowing down symptoms of bipolar disorder. But it’s not a substitute for an official evaluation with a mental health professional. 

When you meet your provider for the first time, they’ll conduct an initial assessment to learn more about you and your symptoms. This is an opportunity to review your health history, your family history, MDQ results, and any other relevant experiences or emotions. Your provider may also order a medical evaluation to rule out any underlying physiological concerns or blood work to further understand your risk for the condition. 

Ultimately, your provider, will make an official diagnosis based on industry criteria and create a complete treatment plan based on your needs and preferences. 

Find a mental health provider with Rula 

If you’ve taken the MDQ at home or are interested in completing the questionnaire with the support of a mental health professional, Rula can help. Navigating a mood disorder can be overwhelming, but learning more about your symptoms and receiving an official diagnosis are important steps on your healing journey.

Rula makes it easier to find a provider who can help you manage symptoms, develop healthy coping strategies, and feel your best. In less than 30 seconds, we can match you with a therapist who takes your insurance and offers the specialized care you deserve. And if medication management is part of your treatment plan, we can seamlessly connect you to a psychiatric provider in our network. 

More From Rula

April 18, 2024
What causes low self-esteem? Six ways to feel better about yourself

If you have low self-esteem, there are things you can do to boost your confidence.

April 17, 2024
Understanding existential anxiety and how to cope

For people with existential anxiety, life’s big questions can cause extreme distress.