General practitioners are often consulted for first presentations of bipolar disorder and are well placed to coordinate patient care. They can assist with early identification of bipolar disorder and monitoring for manic and depressive episodes. Delayed and incorrect diagnoses are common in bipolar disorder, and unipolar depression is a frequent misdiagnosis. Characteristics that can be used to distinguish bipolar I depression from unipolar depression (when no clear prior manic episodes are evident) include the course of illness, symptoms, mental state signs and family history. Manic episodes can be caused by poor adherence to medication, substance misuse, antidepressants and stressful events, and are often preceded by early warning signs. Early warning signs are less commonly observed for depressive episodes. Daily mood charts are useful for providing an overview of patient progress and for identifying and managing early warning signs. Families and carers can also play an active role in supporting patients with bipolar disorder.