Bipolar Disorder vs. Depression: How to Tell the Difference

bipolar-disorder-vs-depression

Bipolar disorder and depression are very similar illnesses with one major difference: People with bipolar disorder switch between episodes of depression and episodes of mania. Because these two illnesses are so similar, some people who are diagnosed as having depression may actually have bipolar disorder. One reason for this misdiagnosis is that people with bipolar disorder often only seek treatment during a depressive episode. They may also be unaware that when they’re not feeling depressed, they may actually be experiencing an episode of mania.

Here’s more information about the differences between bipolar disorder and depression.

What is Depression?

Clinical (or major) depression is a serious illness that affects every aspect of an individual’s life, including their personal and family relationships, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
  • Change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in moods that alternate between “highs” (or mania) and “lows” (or depression). These manic and depressive periods vary from person to person and can last from just a few hours or days to several weeks or even months. Sometimes these periods of intense emotions are so brief and so far between that many people may not be aware that they have bipolar disorder. Sometimes these cycles are so strong and close together that it is very difficult to maintain a normal life and have normal relationships.

Bipolar depression shares many of the same symptoms of regular depression. Manic episodes are often harder to identify because many people don’t understand what the symptoms of mania are. If you experience episodes of depression followed by the following symptoms of mania, you may have bipolar disorder.

  • An extremely elated, happy mood or an extremely irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased talking, more rapid speech than normal
  • Ambitious, often grandiose plans
  • Risk taking
  • Impulsive activity such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion, and alcohol abuse
  • Decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue

Do I have Depression or Bipolar Disorder?

The depressive phase of bipolar disorder shares many similarities to regular depression, including prolonged sadness, inability to concentrate, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, and thoughts of suicide. People with bipolar depression, however, tend to have more unpredictable mood swings, more irritability and guilt, and more feelings of restlessness. They also tend to move and speak slowly, sleep a lot and gain weight.

According to HelpGuide.org, your depression might be bipolar disorder if:

  • You’ve experienced repeated episodes of major depression.
  • You had your first episode of major depression before age 25.
  • You have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder.
  • When you’re not depressed, your mood and energy levels are higher than most people’s.
  • When you’re depressed, you oversleep and overeat.
  • Your episodes of major depression are short (less than 3 months)
  • You’ve lost contact with reality while depressed.
  • You’ve had postpartum depression before.
  • You’ve developed mania or hypomania while taking an antidepressant.
  • Your antidepressant stopped working after several months.†
  • You’ve tried 3 or more antidepressants without success.

Depression and Bipolar Disorder Treatment

There are a variety of effective treatment options available for depression and bipolar disorder, including medication, psychotherapy and holistic therapies. If you believe you have depression, it’s important see a mental health professional who specializes in mood disorders so that you’re properly diagnosed. Bipolar depression is treated differently than regular depression, so misdiagnosis can potentially lead to dangerous problems, including the fact that antidepressants can actually make bipolar disorder worse.

At Casa Palmera, we believe in treating depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders with traditional treatments like therapy and medications, but we also believe in a holistic approach that includes alternative methods of treatment such as yoga, acupuncture and herbal medicine. Call Casa Palmera today and ask how our holistic depression and bipolar disorder treatment program can return you to a healthy mind, body and emotional state of well-being.

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54 Responses to “Bipolar Disorder vs. Depression: How to Tell the Difference”

  1. Debora

    Hello, I’ve been diagnosed with depression, psychosis and anxiety (I also cut), but I’m starting to wonder if I’m not depressed but bipolar, because Although there are more times where I feel depressed, there are some days where I feel like those girls on tampon commercials where everything’s neat and fine, and I sing. Alot. And I stay up late and am just overall energized and I was wondering if you think I’m experiencing syptoms of bipolar disorder. I’ve tried 2 antidepressants and they’re not working and I have insomnia.

    Reply
    • Kelly

      Hi Debora – For help and more information on bipolar disorder please contact us at 866-768-6719.

      Reply
  2. tina

    very good article, i’ve been taking lithium for over 35 years for my bipolar, now started taking prozac also….the depression is so unbearable at the moment…..

    Reply
  3. Shannon

    I have wondered if I do have bipolar. When I have my episodes of depression which I have been battling for yrs. I seems that when it’s over the next day I could be fine. I have been on and off meds for yrs. But the episodes that I have are really scary! I have had many situations over the yrs that just bring me down. To the point that I have had bad thoughts of ending it all. But the thiught of my kids keeps me going. Like the last episode. It started two wks ago. Where I was emotionally drained! I would cry, have guilty feelings as it was my fault. That I wasn’t worth anything. Then yesterday I feel as the weight has been lifted and I’m happier! What do you think?

    Reply
  4. Kallie

    I often feel more depressed lately . But at school around friends I feel pumped up and hyper and fine , but as soon as I get home I go straight to pajamas and don’t want anything to do with a social life, I haven’t left the house in over 3 weeks, because of the changes of mood at school to at home I’m not quite sure what I might have?

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera

      Hi Kallie – Thank you for your comment. However not knowing your full medical history, it would be unethical to respond. Please consult your treating physician.

      Reply
  5. ashlee

    Shannon ,
    You are not alone…somthing that i did in the past(cheating) has recently ended my 2 year relationship. I have been so depressed i feel not worthy of happiness or love. At the time of the cheating i wasnt thinking about the consequences. I have hit rock bottom so hard i called and made a phycology appointment myself. I pray everyday it gets better,recently found out we are having a child,and i am alone… I would never normally hurt anyone when thinking clearly. I hopethey diagnose me with somthing easily treatable..I am so ready to get better and be a person my family is proud of.

    Reply
  6. Connor

    I am a 21 year old guy and have been diagnosed bipolar within the last month. I have had a very hard time dealing with major depression once before and took antidepressants for about 5 months before I started to get better. Once I started feeling confident with myself I flipped to become the most manic person imaginable. I was on a mission to meet and talk with everyone I came across or had ever known, and I was pretty damn good at it. Creating new relationships was almost a hobby for me and until my mood started to falter, I was able to juggle all of the new friendships and love interests I had. Once my depression set back in I began hating myself because the talkative, funny, social side of myself wasn’t quite there so I eventually became an absolute introvert with terrible social anxiety. I’m still going to college but aside from my parents and two younger brothers, I am hesitant to interact at all. I constantly have racing thoughts, mostly of suicide and they have made it hard for me to be a successful student (I should be studying for an exam right now). I have a lot going for me when I’m not in this cloudy version of reality, but living with these extreme highs and lows has made me question everything about myself and now I’m not even sure of anything that defines me as a person. I’m pretty lost right now and if I didn’t have an amazing family helping me through this, I’m certain I wouldn’t be alive.

    Reply
  7. bionca

    My mother has bipolar disorder but I wasn’t raised by her at all but since I was little I aleays felt different and misunderstood then I found out nw that I’m 21 that my birth mom has it so I kinda feel like I do too I’ve attempted suocide twice I’ve taken meds and none work I need help

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera

      Hi Bionca – Thank you for your comment. Please consult your treating physician to discuss your concerns. You can also contact us at 1-866-768-6719 or email info@casapalmera.com for help and more information about our services.

      Reply
  8. Vanya

    Im a 20 year old female, and my mother has a mild form of Bi-polarism. I’ve always had issues with controlling my temper and have accidentally lost control twice and hurt two of my very good friends in the process. I’ve gotten better at dealing with my anger over the years, but for the past two-three years i’ve been experiencing major mood swings and thoughts of suicide. My boyfriend does his best to help me, and tells me that my emotions are like a “switch”; that one minute im ecstatic and the next im miserable or upset. But when i’m at work or around others, everyone tells me that Im just a ball of energy and happiness. It’s not like im always upset, but when Im not, i am excessively energetic and set out a bunch of new goals and ambitions to change my attitude. Then when I get upset, i just hit rock bottom; there is no middle ground at all. I’m not sure if I need professional help.

    Reply
  9. Aria

    My fiancée has been having times where he is high and everything is fine and we are laughing together and then there are times when a switch flips and he can be miserable and depressed and under eating with a sense of hopelessness, guilt, and self-loathing. He usually worries about money and his job. When he is not depressed he can sleep for only like 5 hours a night and be fully energetic and functional and has to do something. I need to know whether it is something we should get him treated for- and if anyone thinks it is bipolar or depression.

    Reply
  10. Audrey

    i don’t know if i have a depression but i notice some changes in me….i don’t seem happy like before….i get worried easily…i often feels i am living in guilt, i sometimes feel i am hopeless and useless….i can’t take on stress because i may go crazy and be extremely aggressive. i have been abuse by my mother when i was younger and i was hurt, i did think of killing myself by strangling with a rope round my neck but someone stopped me….but the hurt is still there up till now….i always distance myself from people because they hurt me without knowing what they say….sometimes i wanna everything to stop…i am up to the point where i can’t take it anymore….i wanted to talk to family members about it but they thought i was joking…i even got bullied by them and people too….that is when i started to do drugs, take alcohol and smoking….just to get it over…but the next day, i feel more and more depressed….lately i feel worse….i don’t dare to ask for help anymore….i just wish i could disappear… please tell me if i am really in depression? because i don’t even dare to go outside…i have been in my house for weeks now…..i don’t know what to do…

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera

      Hi Audrey – For help with your depression we recommended consulting your primary care physician. You may also contact us for help and more information about our services. Please call 1-866-768-6719 or email info@casapalmera.com.

      Reply
  11. Marek

    I have had depression since the age of 4. I could sleep all day until my late 30’s, now i have to take two ambien @ bedtime. Good sleep is the most important factor– without it– my brain turns to sludge. I do take medicine, exercise, support groups, therapy,etc. Lack of sleep and intense heat/light is Kryptonite to me. Practice good sleep hygiene and monitor your depression even in the summer. And….always have something good to look forward to.

    Live Long and Prosper!

    Reply
  12. Ruairi

    I’m 16 years old and I think I have clinical depression or bipolar disorder but I’m not sure which. I don’t remember when it started but I’ve been having alot of times lately when I’ve felt so down ( I don’t know how to put it into words). I didn’t realize I had clinical depression till I saw someone talking about it on tv one day and I thought “That’s what I feel like” so I looked it up in some places on the Internet and realized I had almost all the symptoms. I’ve felt like this most of the time from at least last winter (I don’t really remember much of how I felt before that) but there are alot of times inbetween when I don’t feel like that and other times when I feel something which I think might be hypomania (but that only lasts a day at most). The thing that makes it really hard for me is that it’s on and off but not over long periods, usually I’ll feel so depressed I don’t know what to do with myself for just a few days and then normal the next day and then back to feeling depressed again almost immediatly after. The wierdest thing happened to me recently when I felt what I think was hypomania (like I mentioned before, of course I’m not sure if that’s what it is) for a few hours then immediatly after I felt completely depressed. I just want to know what’s wrong with me, it’s driving me insane. Also I can’t talk about this with my family because we’ve been going through some hard times recently and them finding out about this is the last thing they need, I just want my mom to keep thinking I’m just “being a teenager”.

    Reply
  13. kimmers

    I know that i suffer from bipoar an severe depression i have been diagnosed for 6 years now i am a different person from one day to the next day i feel helpless sad cry alot an think of suicide almost once a week I’ve tried to kill myself twice i hurt so bad inside i feel there’s no help for me i see my doctor regurally take my meds everyday I’ve been on every different medication except lithium i don’t wanna touch that i feel my meds aren’t working anymore or I’m just getting worse i can relate to everyone on these posts i hope the best for everyone it’s definitely a battle

    Reply
  14. Sandy

    I have been seeing a counselor and shrink for 3 yrs. They have me as maj. depressive/ptsd. I have been on many different medications in this time. Without much luck, until my new doctor put me on lithium 1200 mg. daily, I also take wellburtrin 300mg. daily, Seroquel 300 mg. daily with 45 mg. remoron to help sleep. I have severe mood swings, today in a 10 hr. time frame I went from good to depressed, sad and mad at the same time, hopeless.to suicidal id…..taking a nap and eating helps sometimes but not all….when I go for periods of lack of sleep its at its worst all clear thinking leaves and I start doing crazy stuff like riding my motorcycle to fast w/o helmet and to caring what happens. Sometimes I feel pressured to talk to people for nothing. and I can’t sit still. My mother had mental illness, not sure what kind. My sister has depression and ptsd. I have reviewed the bipolar symptoms and the depression symptoms. Just confused on which one I am.

    Reply
  15. Samantha H.

    I really need some help to find out if I have depression or bipolar I have been high and low for years now and every time I go to the doctor I just get antidepressants which doesn’t seem to help

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Please contact our Admission staff so they can assist you at 858-481-4411.

      Reply
  16. melissa

    I’ve been off my meds for almost a year now. I’m in a relationship & my mood swings r tearing my relationship up. What do I do?

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Please see a psychiatrist for review of your meds and whether you need to begin taking again.

      Reply
  17. Dawn

    Hello i have been diagnosed depression i am off the tablets for a year i got diagnosed for axienty disorder still on medication but my mum still thinks they haven’t looked in to it properly which i do agree. I have really bad weeks were im angry for no reason at all irrated at something thrn i change from that to being happy hyper full of beans then next im sad and depressed my thoughts go racing about my sleeping pattern is awfull i can stay up all night and the next day im fine i dont feel tired at all this has been getting worse and worse been getting more of these since this year.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Would you consider getting an assessment or evaluation by a professional? With an accurate diagnosis, help is possible for the symptoms you describe.

      Reply
  18. Tara

    Yesterday I was so happy & today I feel like I can’t move. I’m crying & don’t know why. I was diagnosed with depression years ago. Off those meds. Diagnosed with Bipolar too. I thought I was getting better. I was happy & then boom. I dontv want to eat. Married 2 kids, one in college. I was thinking menopause. I’m 41 had a hysterectomy. So it can be many things. I just wanna stop crying & move outta the bed. Get out. I want the room dark & no connection with anyone. I’m not depressed.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Please consider going to a treatment center, outpatient therapist, or hotline for an evaluation or assessment. It could make a difference.

      Reply
  19. Alan

    I didn’t know what I was feeling, I know I was depressed and feeling very very down, I now know at 53 years old, that I also have racing thoughts going through my head, especially at night, they always keep me awake all night, also my bad thoughts are very bad, I get very angry inside, and really beat myself up. There is so much more to say about my mad mood swings, the one thing I am sure of is that this has not helped me in life. There is so much more to say.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Would you be willing to call our admissions line at 888-481-4481 and speak to one of our intake specialist in person? We can discuss the possible alternatives available to you after learning more about the symptoms you are experiencing. Thank you for writing. We would be happy to be of service.

      Reply
  20. Amber

    Help answer alot of questions I had, I couldn’t figure out why I would be so happy one min and just like someone flipped a switch I’d be pissed or overwhelming moody, or sad, then the remorce and guilt. I’v not yet seemed medical attention yet, but thanks to this article, I’ll be making a few phone calls to see if I can get this under control.

    Reply
  21. Mudita

    I am suffering from bipolar disorder and MDD for the last few years. I have two beautiful daughters and I love them very much. I am taking good care of them. But I don’t know why I always fight with my husband. I love him very much and so as he but when I got angry I blame him for my sorrows. In reality be is the one who take care of me more than anything. I am feeling guilty. What should I do. Can I leave them and live alone because I don’t want to hurt them mentally, emotionally and physically. Please help me

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Have you considered outpatient therapy to help give you direction?

      Reply
  22. Kevin

    I have epilepsy and mental health issues, I’ve not been fully diagnosed with a certain mental health condition, my moods are up and down some days are fine can get quite happy then I become agitated and lose my temper the I get paranoid about other people, I hear voices in my head yelling me to hurt myself and think about suicide, I have self harmed in the past. Sometimes my good days can last a week or more and my bad days can last longer. I’m on antidepressants and antipsychotic medication along with my epileptic medication. Wish the psychiatrist would tell me what is wrong with me I know its more than just anxiety and depression.

    Reply
  23. Kimyatta

    I have depression. I have been down for the last two weeks and I punched my husband in the face. I’m not eating, not sleeping and I’m mad all the time so is that bipolar.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      There is no way to determine if this is bipolar or depression until you are evaluated by a psychiatrist. We would be happy to refer you to someone if you need our help.

      Reply
  24. Anon

    It’s very hard to get a good diagnosis. My doctors and therapists have different opinions. In the beginning was clinical depression, then changed quickly to just Mood disorder, then Borderline personality disorder. Now one consultant says Personality Disorder and the other says Dissociative Identity Disorder. I also have OCD, Anxiety/agoraphobia and suffer with Depersonalisation. Writing forms is a nightmare. You’d think there would be one word for what I’m dealing with. I have multiple symptoms, but the disorders are all so similar that I fit most of them. A traumatologist thinks I have PTSD with other disorders side by side. So that’s nice?. The only reason they didn’t label me with bi-polar was because I never get the highs, if I do feel elated it’s for five minutes and I think “wow, I’m suddenly better and everythings gonna be great” but then it disappears. I take the mick out of myself for it haha. I get spouts of psychosis and tend to lose it abit, half the time I cannot recall weeks at a time. I don’t take medication because all of them made me psychotic and impulsive. My speech does become very hyped at times and doesn’t tend to make sense.My eyes fog over and it’s like my brain can’t put the words in order and I become tongue tied. How long do these periods of mania last and what are they like? Do you feel happy in those times? I don’t know very much about Bi-polar and I’d love to learn about it

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      You’ve shared a lot of information and it sounds like had a long frustrating experience. From what you have written it sounds like you meet criteria for a residential treatment experience but it also sounds like it would need to be “long term” in order to give the professionals time to give a complete and thorough diagnosis and subsequent treatment. We are not a long term treatment program however and there is no way to know your financial resources as insurance typically does not pay for long stays. Insurance basically covers crisis stabilization. If you would like referrals to long term programs that might be able to accurately diagnose and treat, we would be happy to give you some referrals.

      Reply
  25. Shannon D

    I was just alright until I just started feeling down and out and all alone and so out of no where I started crying. I’m tired of feeling like this. Can someone help me for its to late

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      It’s never too late to ask for help. Please call our Admissions Team at 858-481-4411 or 888-206-6814

      Reply
  26. Caylin

    I’m doing okay right now. I’m sitting at university and about two hours ago I basically went about telling everyone I now that I won’t be around to talk because I need to sort myself out. Then I explained everything to my aunt and I was having an episode, the depressed one. Which was weird because yesterday was a really good day for me. I got all sad and told her that I need space from everyone and she said isolating myself is not good. I, however, think better when no one is around and when I’m sad I just go sleep. I don’t even eat anymore.
    I moved to Germany to study here but since then my episodes of depression has gotten worse. The people, the weather, it all made me worse. Then my brother died and I’m still trying to cope. I wake each day with a fake smile and a lump in my throat that hurts and my past makes me hate myself that I just want to jump in front of an express train and die. That’s when I’m sad. And on my bad mornings. And when I’m happy, I do crazy thing and I behave irrationally. And no, I am not bipolar or depressed, or maybe I am because I have all the symptoms, except I don’t gain weight or anything. My question however, to what extent is depression hereditary? My sister and mother suffer from depression and my mother is an alcoholic and my brother is a druggie (the one that’s alive) and my dad is something else. I wanted to swear but that would be indecent. Anyways, I do not take anti-depressants mainly because I don’t like the idea of taking tablets and the fear of addiction. And I don’t have a therapist or psychologist because I don’t trust any of them(unfair I know), but the ones I’ve seen couldn’t keep my information to themselves. But yeah, I simply need my question answered please and what can I do if I am possibly bipolar or depressed?

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      It is really important that you find a competent psychiatrist for a face to face evaluation as it is impossible to diagnose from a note and a brief history. You cannot be forced to take medication but do at least be willing to listen to the professional. There may be other ways to feel improved mood without taking a pill. Yes, there can be a link between family history of depression same as there can be a strong correlation in families relative to substance abuse. Please consider seeking help immediately.

      Reply
  27. Feeby

    Every day just randomly I’ll cry then be extremely happy I’ll get butterflies randomly then when I’m socializing with people I know I’ll talk really fast and stutter like I’m incredibly excited I suffer from panic attacks a lot and I often find myself buying really irrelevant expensive things every pay day which I then forget about a few weeks down the line then I’ll do it all again I can’t stop thinking and over thinking all the time… I don’t know if I’m okay.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      It would benefit you to get an evaluation by a psychiatrist to learn more about your situation. We can help you locate one if you need help by calling our Admissions team at 858-481-4411.

      Reply
  28. Tracey

    I can think life is fine one moment and then the slightest thing triggers me off and I’m then in a low mood, hating life, feeling unappreciated, worthless, suicidal and totally down

    Reply
  29. lea

    I either wake up feeling in a good mood or depressed. If I wake up in a depressed mood sometimes throughout the day randomly I will not feel as sad anymore but feel rather normal.. But other times I can wake up in a very good mood and sometimes it will alter to a rather depressed mood randomly. Idk what’s wrong with me

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      If you are concerned about mood instability, please consult with an outpatient therapist.

      Reply
  30. Philip

    Not doing well have depression sent having a TBI thanks for any support.

    Reply
    • Casa Palmera Staff

      Please call our Admissions line 888-481-4411. We are here to support you.

      Reply