Depression And Bipolar Disorder: 5 Key Differences Between The Two Conditions

Date January 12, 2018

Diagnosing mental disorders is sometimes tricky. There are no medical tests doctors can use to tell for sure that someone has a mental illness, e.g. depression. However, in some cases, brain imaging is used to look at the brain activity and search for abnormalities in patients with mental illness.

Mental health professionals have to rely on their own observations of the patient’s behavior and the patient’s or his or her relatives’ account of what is happening. This is why the person who makes a diagnosis sometimes can’t get the full picture, and bipolar disorder and unipolar depression may be confused.

What is depression?

It’s not exactly clear how many people have depression, but it’s thought to be the most common mental health problem. Symptoms of depression include the following:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness;
  • lack of interest in things and activities you once found enjoyable;
  • tiredness, low levels of energy;
  • changes in sleep patterns (trouble  falling and staying asleep or sleeping too much);
  • changes in eating habits (either overeating or eating less) and respective weight changes;
  • slowed speech and movement;
  • feeling anxious without any obvious reasons;
  • problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making;
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches muscle aches, and digestive issues;
  • thoughts of death and self-harm.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, which used to be called “manic depression”, is a condition in which a person experiences extreme fluctuations in mood and energy levels and changes in behavior. In people with bipolar disorder, episodes of mania and depression alternate.

In people with bipolar I disorder, symptoms of mania and depression are usually equally severe, but depressive episodes last longer. In people with bipolar II disorder, depressive symptoms are always longer, and they experience a less severe form of mania called hypomania.

In people with cyclothymic disorder, symptoms of mania and depression are less severe than in both type I and type II bipolar disorder.

During a depressive episode, bipolar people experience the same symptoms as people with unipolar depression, but they may be more severe.

During a manic episode, the following signs and symptoms are usually present:

  • having lots of energy;
  • needing less sleep;
  • elevated mood, feeling “on top of the world”;
  • heightened irritability and agitation;
  • planning and doing a lot of things;
  • having an exaggerated perception of one’s abilities;
  • talking fast, shifting from subject to subject, racing thoughts;
  • engaging in risky or irrational behaviors, such as shopping sprees, gambling, reckless sex, and drunk driving;
  • in some cases, hallucinations and delusions.

Differences between bipolar disorder and depression

Bipolar disorder and depression have a lot in common. But they are two separate conditions that have a lot of differences.

Here are key differences between depression and bipolar disorder:

  • Age of onset. Bipolar disorder usually begins in adolescence and early adulthood, while depression can affect a person of any age.
  • Duration. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, while depression can be cured completely in some cases.
  • The number of people affected. It’s difficult to tell how many people are bipolar and how many people are depressed, but depression is known to be more common. Bipolar disorder affects about 2.5% of the population. Depression can affect as many as one in five (or even more) people at some point in their lives.
  • Symptoms. People with depression don’t have episodes of mania; their mood is relatively consistent. Bipolar people have episodes of both mania (or hypomania) and depression.
  • Treatment. Treatment of both conditions usually involves a combination of talk therapy and medicines. Depression is usually treated with drugs called antidepressants. People with bipolar disorder are given antidepressants only during depressive episodes. Bipolar people may take mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medicines to treat symptoms of mania.

Source: WebMD, HealthLine, Medical News Today

READ ALSO: Bipolar Disorder: 16 Typical Symptoms To Look Out For

This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.