BACKGROUND: The study measured the accuracy of the Italian version of the Hypomania Checklist (HCL-32) for self-assessment as a screening instrument for bipolar disorder (BPD) in a psychiatric setting and compared results with a previous study, carried out in a comparable sample and in the same setting, using the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ). METHODS: 123 consecutive subjects attending a psychiatric division were screened for BPD using the Italian translation of the HCL-32, and diagnostically interviewed with the SCID by physicians. The sample of the previous study using the MDQ consisted of 154 subjects. RESULTS: On the basis of the SCID: 26 received a diagnosis of bipolar/schizoaffective disorder, 57 were diagnosed as having at least another psychiatric disorder in Axis-I, whilst 40 were unaffected by any type of psychiatric disorder. Comparing the bipolar with all other patients the HCL-32 showed a good accuracy: cut-off 8: sensitivity 0.92-specificity 0.48; cut-off 10: sensitivity 0.88-specificity 0.54; cut-off 12: sensitivity 0.85-specificity 0.61. The accuracy for BPD-II (10) remains good: cut-off 8: sensitivity 0.90-specificity 0.42; cut-off 10: sensitivity 0.80-specificity 0.47; cut-off 12: sensitivity 0.80-specificity 0.54. The comparison with the MDQ performance shows that both screening tools may show good results, but HCL-32 seems to be more sensitive in detecting BPD-II. CONCLUSION: Our results seem to indicate good accuracy of HCL-32 as a screening instrument for BPD in a psychiatric setting, with a low rate of false negatives, and a fairly good degree of identification of BPD-II.