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How is Bipolar Depression Different?

how is bipolar depression different

How is bipolar depression different from other types of depression?

Bipolar disorder may involve depressive episodes and other similarities with depression, but there are some distinct differences you should know about.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the differences so you can move forward in the right direction, whether you’re interested in seeking treatment or supporting a loved one.

So, how is bipolar depression different?

How is Bipolar Depression Different?

According to statistics, over a quarter of adults in the United States are diagnosed with mental health conditions each year.

As of 2015, depression was ranked as the main factor in disability for those aged 15 and above. Nearly six million American adults are diagnosed with bipolar disorder and require bipolar treatment.

The overlap of symptoms that occur between these two categories of mental health requires careful consideration before deciding on an accurate diagnosis.

How is bipolar depression different and what should you keep an eye on if you suspect you have bipolar disorder?

Signs of Depression

The experience of depression is so recognizable, that diagnostic criteria for depression even includes the patient’s report of simply feeling depressed.

Some of the more empirical signs include fatigue, inability to think clearly, and changes in weight or eating behaviors. A person with depression may experience repeated, distressing, thought patterns, and may battle feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem.

Others may notice that the depressed person has become sluggish in movement or behaviors. In the worst cases, a depressed person will become fixated on thoughts of using suicide as a plan for escaping the misery.

Diagnosing Depression

In order for a depressive disorder to be properly diagnosed, these signs – or symptoms – need to be present for a certain amount of time.

The symptoms may appear periodically or may linger on. They may be associated with a significant life event, or there may be no discernible reason for feeling so low. A person who is depressed may experience anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure.

Depending on the severity, length, and recurrence of the symptoms, a diagnosis of depression will be expanded with modifiers. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the most commonly assigned diagnosis and describes the state of someone who experiences at least five of the associated symptoms for at least two weeks at a time.

There is also a diagnosis of MDD with anxious features, which describes someone who simultaneously experiences anxiety while feeling depressed.

Another modifier includes MDD with mixed features, which describes someone who has some signs of mania present within the depression.

Signs of Mania

Mania can be considered the flip-side to depression.

Rather than feeling a lack of motivation, a person in a manic state may decide to take on a huge project or may end up jumping from one interest to another.

Rather than thinking about the future in a hopeless light, a manic person may feel invincible. Rather than spending too much time in bed, a manic person may not sleep, at all.

The distinction between mania and simply feeling good lies in the self-destructive nature of the mood. A person who is experiencing mania is not in full control of his or her thought process or decision making abilities.

The mania may contribute to risky or dangerous behaviors. As with all mental health diagnoses, the condition must result in a significant detriment to the person diagnosed. In order to meet criteria, the behaviors engaged in while manic must be negatively affecting your social life, vocational life, or independent living abilities.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

As you may have noted, the key distinction of bipolar disorder lies in the name.

The prefix, bi, means two. The root word, polar, refers to opposite ends. A person who is diagnosed with a bipolar disorder has a hard time regulating between two, opposite, moods. Those moods are the highs and lows of mania and depression.

Bipolar Disorder can be assigned when the person reports – or is observed by others as – experiencing the symptoms of mania for a week, or more. Variations to the diagnosis exist and are dependent upon the extremity of either the mania or depression which is experienced. As already explained, periods of mania can be present for a depressed person, without it meaning that the person is experiencing bipolar disorder.

It is important for the person being assessed that the professional has all of the information available toward making a precise, and accurate, diagnosis.

Depression In Bipolar Disorder

In addition to the mania of the disorder, a person who suffers from bipolar symptoms will tend to spend large periods of time in the depressive state.

During these periods, the highs of mania may feel like a welcome state of being. It may even become the desired state, and the one which a depressed person considers he or she should be operating at, all of the time. It is important to remember that neither feeling excessively high, nor excessively low, is the goal.

As with most things in life, balance is the key to maintaining peace and happiness.

Receiving the Right Diagnosis

The mental health diagnoses found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) are comprised of clusters of symptoms.

In order to form the classifications, psychiatrists and doctors come together and discuss the prevailing mental health issues of the population, at the time, and collaboratively decide upon how to group those observations together under descriptive labels.

A mental health diagnosis is nothing other than a description of associated experiences.

While those endowed with the ability to officially diagnose a mental disorder are required to undergo extensive training and are under strict legislative oversight, mental health diagnoses are not an exact science.

Most often, diagnoses are arrived upon following a brief interview, and the professional is relying upon the accounts of symptoms as delivered by the client or patient. It is possible to be assigned a diagnosis that does not accurately reflect the fullness of your experiences.

This can lead to improper treatment application and ineffective – or counterproductive – medications being prescribed.

It is very important, therefore, that you do your own research into your mental health.

Be prepared to give an accurate account of your symptoms, patterns, and any life situations which may be contributing to your distress.

Should your symptoms change, be prepared to advocate for yourself at your subsequent appointments.

Psychiatrists are likely to continue with the status quo of treatment unless alerted, by you, to additional information. Official mental health diagnoses need to be updated, as applicable.


So, how is bipolar depression different?

People with bipolar depression will often experience manic episodes, which are best described as the opposite of depression. Instead of staying in bed, people experiencing a manic episode will often opt to stay awake, take on new projects, and engage with others socially.

As with all mental health conditions, bipolar disorder and depression affect everyone a little differently. This is why it’s important to understand the condition as much as possible if you suspect you have the condition.

If you’re a young adult with bipolar disorder and want to explore your options, consider the Paradigm Young Adult Program your source for information about mental health treatment, bipolar disorder treatment, and depression treatment options.

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