What’s The Difference Between Bipolar Disorder & Depression?

A man in a red sweater rubbing his temples with his fingers
Both depression and bipolar disorder are serious illnesses that can impact your quality of life. While they have their similarities, its their differences that really matter when it comes to treating either one of them.

Depression is more than just feeling low. It’s a deep sadness or emptiness you can’t shake. You might feel hopeless, worthless, and restless. You might lose interest in things that you used to enjoy. Depression (also called major depressive disorder or MDD) often goes hand-in-hand with sleep problems, changes in appetite, and trouble concentrating. It can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. People who suffer with depression might have some days that are better than others. But without proper treatment, their mood tends to remain low.

Bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression) is different. If you have it, you have extreme mood swings. You experience periods of depression (similar to MDD). But you also have periods of great highs.

A person suffering from major depression has experienced a period of at least two full, consecutive weeks of several of the following:

  • Depressed mood or anger
  • Significant changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleeping  patterns
  • Decreased libido
  • Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • In severe cases, thoughts of suicide

The individual with bipolar disorder may have several of the same symptoms as someone with depression for the same duration of time, but in addition there is a period following the depressive episode where they may experience several of the following:

  • Elevated sense of self
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Engage in impulsive behaviors
  • Distractibility
  • Rapid speech and thoughts

In addition to the above symptoms, I have had patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder describe…