Depression Diagnosis Depression vs. Bipolar Disorder By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW Julia Childs Heyl, MSW Julia Childs Heyl is a clinical social worker who focuses on mental health disparities, the healing of generational trauma, and depth psychotherapy. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 08, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Stefanamer / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is the Difference Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder? Symptoms of Depression Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Causes of Depression Causes of Bipolar Disorder How to Receive a Proper Diagnosis Finding Relief Treating Major Depression Treating Bipolar Disorder What Is the Difference Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder? Depression and bipolar disorder are two mood disorders that have many similarities. However, they have key differences that are essential to understand for the sake of effective treatment. Mental health is becoming more of a mainstream topic, an incredible advancement that normalizes the experiences of many. As such, isn’t uncommon to hear someone say they’re feeling depressed. However, clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, isn’t just feeling sad. It is a persistent feeling of hopelessness and emptiness, losing interest in things that used to excite you, and several other symptoms including changes in sleep, appetite, and thinking. Depression Persistent feeling of hopelessness and emptiness Changes in appetite, sleep, thinking Significant fatigue Bipolar Disorder Marked by episodes of mania or hypomania and depression May cause impairment or require hospitalization May have feelings of extreme energy when manic Similarly, some may casually say they’re bipolar because they’re feeling a wide range of moods. But bipolar disorder is marked by episodes of mania or hypomania and depression that significantly impact your life. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for these two disorders. What Is Clinical Depression? Symptoms of Depression A diagnosis of a major depressive episode includes experiencing some of the following symptoms for the majority of the day and nearly every day for at least two weeks: Consistent sad and hopeless mood Feeling worthless or guilty Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable Significant fatigue Moving and/or talking slowly Issues such as oversleeping or challenges falling asleep Decreased ability to think or concentrate Loss or increase in appetite Weight changes Suicidal ideation Somatic pains that are not explained by other physical ailments To meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression, you will need to experience some of these symptoms consistently. However, everyone experiences depression differently. Some may experience all of these symptoms, others may experience fewer symptoms. It is important to see a licensed mental health professional to appropriately evaluate symptoms of depression. Why Some People Are More Prone to Depression Than Others Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Bipolar disorder has three different variations: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia. Bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum. Bipolar I is defined by the following symptoms: Periods of experiencing mania for at least one week. Mania is marked by feelings of elation, grandiosity, irritability, and/or extreme energy The disturbance is sufficient to cause marked impairment or require hospitalization Depressive episodes generally occur along the course of the illness Remember, you don’t have to experience all of these symptoms to experience bipolar I. Bipolar II is defined by the following symptoms: Hypomania, which consists of less pronounced mania symptoms, for at least 4 daysIntermittent depressive episodes that last for at least two weeks and severely impact daily functioning Cyclothymia is defined by the following symptoms: Experiencing hypomanic symptoms that do not constitute a hypomanic episode over a 2-year periodExperiencing depressive symptoms that do not constitute a major depressive episode over a 2-year period Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Causes of Depression Depression has many different factors that can contribute to its emergence. These include genetic, temperamental, brain, neurotransmitter, and environmental contributions. Relationships With Depression: 10 Ways to Support a Partner Who’s Depressed Causes of Bipolar Disorder The exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown, however, there are risk factors that are known to make the development of bipolar disorder more likely. A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood of developing a condition. First, bipolar disorder is known to have a strong genetic link, meaning if you have a history of bipolar in your family, you are at a higher risk for developing the disorder. Childhood trauma can increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder to some degree. Stressful life events, like having a child or losing a parent, may be a trigger for a bipolar episode. Finally, bipolar disorder often co-occurs with substance use disorders. How to Receive a Proper Diagnosis There are no specific medical tests that determine if you have major depressive or bipolar disorder. Laboratory tests are sometimes ordered to rule out potential medical contributions to your symptoms. The diagnosis is made clinically, meaning mental health professionals will evaluate your current symptoms and psychiatric history to make the diagnosis. For this reason, it can be helpful to work with a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and general practitioner. This can increase the chances of getting a precise diagnosis and feeling relief sooner. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Overview Finding Relief It may be important to work with a team of professionals including a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and general practitioner. While this level of care isn’t always accessible to everyone, it is helpful to have a team of providers that can collaborate on aspects of your treatment. Treating Major Depression Depression is typically treated with psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. However, 20% to 30% of individuals do experience treatment-resistant depression. In the case of treatment-resistant depression, neuro-therapeutic interventions such as ketamine, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be suggested. Treating Bipolar Disorder It is incredibly important that bipolar disorder is diagnosed correctly and isn’t misdiagnosed for unipolar depression. This is because antidepressants can potentially trigger a manic episode. Similar to depression, bipolar disorder is typically treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric medications, in this case often a combination of mood-stabilizing and the newer antipsychotic medications. Developing healthy routines such as exercise and proper sleep hygiene can also provide benefit. How to Help a Loved One With Bipolar Disorder A Word From Verywell Whether you're experiencing depression or bipolar mood swings, you are worthy of care. Consider seeking out a mental health professional. Thanks to online therapy, mental health resources have never been more accessible. 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. Filatova EV, Shadrina MI, Slominsky PA. Major depression: one brain, one disease, one set of intertwined processes. Cells. 2021;10(6):1283. doi: 10.3390/cells10061283 Gordovez FJA, McMahon FJ. The genetics of bipolar disorder. Mol Psychiatry. 2020;25(3):544-559. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0634-7 Rowland TA, Marwaha S. Epidemiology and risk factors for bipolar disorder. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2018;8(9):251-269. doi: 10.1177/2045125318769235 Ng CWM, How CH, Ng YP. Major depression in primary care: making the diagnosis. Singapore Med J. 2016;57(11):591-597. doi: 10.11622/smedj.2016174 Morishita T, Fayad SM, Higuchi M aki, Nestor KA, Foote KD. Deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression: systematic review of clinical outcomes. Neurotherapeutics. 2014;11(3):475-484. doi: 10.1007/s13311-014-0282-1 Otte C, Gold SM, Penninx BW, et al. Major depressive disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016;2(1):16065. doi: 10.1038/nrdp.2016.65 By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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