Depression (also known as major depressive disorder) and bipolar disorder are mental health conditions that interfere with people’s daily life. They can be easily confused with another because they share some similar symptoms. A typical question asked by patients is: What are the differences between depression and bipolar disorder?
Well, they do have some critical differences. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between depression and bipolar disorder because their treatments are diverse.
First of all, a quick review of their symptoms will help us better understand their differences.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. These symptoms include:
Lack of energy
Physical pains such as back pain and headaches
Lost interests in many things
Appetite and weight changing
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental condition that involves extreme mood swings. It includes emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Therefore, people with bipolar disorder tend to alternate between mania and depression and experience cycles of symptoms. It is possible to have symptoms of mania and depression at the same time.
Types of bipolar disorder
Understanding the types of bipolar disorder can further help distinguish between bipolar disorder and depression. There are two major types of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar I disorder. It is diagnosed when patients had at least one manic episode lasting at least 7 days. Depressive episodes occur as well, usually lasting at least 2 weeks. In some cases, mania may trigger psychosis.
Bipolar II disorder. It is diagnosed when patients had at least one depressive episode and at least one hypomania. Patients tend to experience longer depressive episodes and shorter hypomanic episodes.
Differences between depression and bipolar disorder
The following symptoms are more common in bipolar depression than depression: mania, psychosis, excessive sleeping, and intense anxiety.
The underlying difference is that people with depression do not experience manic or hypomanic episodes. Severe mania can cause delusions and hallucinations. Patients usually need hospitalization during this period. Typical symptoms of mania and hypomania include:
Restlessness or high energy
Grandiose or unrealistic ideas
Irritability and aggressiveness
Alcohol or drug abuse
High sex drives
Secondly, bipolar disorder patients who have depressive episodes may experience excessive sleeping and more daytime fatigue. They will also experience an increased appetite and weight gain. Inversely, patients with depression are more commonly waking up late in the night or early in the morning.
Thirdly, patients with bipolar disorder are more likely to be accompanied by intense anxiety. One-half to two-thirds of patients with bipolar depression have a simultaneous anxiety disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder.
Understanding the differences is necessary. Depression and bipolar disorder are two different mental conditions that require different treatments. For example, some antidepressants cannot be used for treating bipolar disorder. They may trigger a manic episode and make bipolar disorder worse.