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.