Two common mood disorders that are often confused are depression and bipolar disorder. While there is some overlap in symptoms, these disorders are very different, which is why an accurate diagnosis is crucial. In fact, antidepressants are often detrimental to people with bipolar disorder, and can further aggravate their symptoms. However, due to their similarities, it is common for bipolar disorder to be incorrectly diagnosed as depression. To understand the difference for yourself, read on below.

The Main Difference

The main difference between depression and bipolar disorder is that depression is unipolar; this means that there is no mania when it comes to depression. People who are depressed experienced prolonged “low” periods, while bipolar disorder is characterized by cyclical highs and lows.

Depressive Symptoms

The symptoms of depression can include:

  • Prolonged sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Indecisiveness
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Increased appetite or decreased appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Guilt
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal ideation

Manic Symptoms

In addition to the depressive symptoms above, people with bipolar disorder also experience mania. People with bipolar disorder dramatically shift between these depressive symptoms and manic symptoms. Symptoms of mania include:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Rapid speech and thoughts
  • Excessive energy
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Inflated self-importance
  • Recklessness (generally with money, alcohol, drugs, and sex)

People with bipolar disorder may also experience mixed episodes, in which they have symptoms of both mania and depression.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are different types of bipolar disorder, which are differentiated based on the pattern, frequency, and length of the manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar I

Bipolar I is the most severe type of bipolar disorder. To be diagnosed with bipolar I, one must experience at least one severe manic or mixed episode, whether they have experienced depression or not. While it is typical for people with bipolar I to also experience depressive symptoms, it is mainly characterized by the manic side of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar II

Bipolar II is diagnosed when someone experiences at least one major depressive episode and one episode of hypomania. Hypomania is a less extreme version of mania. It is common for bipolar II to be misdiagnosed as depression because hypomanic episodes often go unrecognized. Generally, hypomania can just feel like you are in a really good mood, so it is hard to recognize that as a symptom of mental illness that needs to be discussed with a therapist.


Cyclothymia is a version of bipolar disorder in which depressive and hypomanic symptoms are less severe and drastic. The severity of this condition can change over time, so someone with cyclothymia may be later diagnosed with bipolar I or II.

The Struggle for Diagnosis

People with bipolar disorder are very commonly misdiagnosed; in fact, on average, it takes ten years for a person with bipolar disorder to be correctly diagnosed. This is often because people do not recognize all of their symptoms as symptoms, so the diagnosis is often made without all of the necessary information. If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, also consider the following questions:

  • Have you been feeling unusually social or confident?
  • Are you feeling more energetic than usual?
  • Are you more irritable than usual?
  • Do you find that your more hyper and talkative recently?
  • Are you having trouble concentrating?
  • Are your thoughts racing?
  • Are you indulging in a lot more spending, drinking, drugs, and sex than usual recently?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, report them to your therapist as well so they may make a more informed diagnosis. When you need to see a therapist in North Texas, contact Tidemark Therapy.

6 Responses to “The Difference Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder”

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