Bipolar Disorder vs. Depression: How to Tell the Difference


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, 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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22 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.

    • Kelly Borden

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

  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…..

  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?

  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?

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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

    • 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 for help and more information about our services.

  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.

  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.

  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…

    • 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

  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!

  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”.

  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

  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, 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.