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Am I Bipolar or Depressed?

Updated on March 3, 2013

There was a time when the answer to the question, "Am I bipolar or depressed?" depended on which of my charts you consulted. One of my medical charts had my diagnosis as major depression. My psychiatrist's chart had me labeled as bipolar disorder, until he changed it back to depression. Then, another psychiatrist changed my diagnosis to bipolar again, but my usual psychiatrist changed it back to depression.

Psychiatrist can disagree if a patient is bipolar or depressed. So, am I bipolar or just depressed? Right now, I'd say neither, but at one time this question bothered me. With psychiatrists constantly changing my diagnosis, I wondered which one was correct.

Bipolar or Depression? What's the Difference?

People with bipolar disorder have times when they have mania or elevated mood. They also may have times of deep depression. People with clinical depression also suffer from episodes of depression that can be extreme. The depression associated with bipolar disorder and major depression can be identical. The main difference between bipolar disorder and depression is the presence of manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) lays out the criteria for depression and bipolar disorders. You'd think that a person's diagnosis would be fairly objective. Either they have the symptoms or they don't. However, doctors often use their personal judgments when diagnosing a patient. Let me share how that affected my diagnosis changes.

According to the DSM, someone is bipolar if they ever had a manic episode. Even though I had been hospitalized years ago during a manic episode, my most recent problems were only depression. In fact, that one severe manic episode was the only time in my life that I experienced mania.

Because of the DSM's criteria for bipolar disorder saying that anyone who had a manic episode ever has bipolar disorder, some psychiatrists would diagnose me as having bipolar disorder. My usual psychiatrist kept changing my diagnosis back to depression since that is the focus of my treatment and the only symptoms that I experienced after that one manic episode.

Interesting enough, the medications that I was on were typical for people with bipolar disorder. The doctor explained that the reason I would be on those medications is because my depression tends to be more cyclical and he believed it to have a strong biological component considering my strong family history with depression.

Confused? Now What?

My regular psychiatrist explained his reasons for giving me a diagnosis of depression, and it made sense to me. If you have trouble understanding your diagnosis or the diagnosis keeps changing, I'd recommend asking the doctor to explain it to you. I believe that understanding your diagnosis is beneficial to start the healing process.

As I mentioned earlier, I would no longer consider myself as being depressed or bipolar. I do not take medications any more. Instead, I focus on taking care of myself physically and emotionally. I use coping skills I have learned such as journaling, writing poetry, daily exercise, and art. I'm not recommending that anyone go off their medications without consulting the prescribing physician.

So am I bipolar or depressed? Technically, I guess I could be labeled as having either disorder. I have a long history of depression symptoms. I got tired of how the medications made me feel, so I'm in recovery another way. I'd say it's a more difficult path, but it also makes me feel more fulfilled and in control.

Am I Bipolar or Just Depressed?

If You Have Been Diagnosed as Either Depressed or Bipolar, Have You Had Both Diagnoses in the Past?

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    • Escobana profile image


      5 years ago from Valencia

      Hi Sheila,

      "I'd say it's a more difficult path, but it also makes me feel more fulfilled and in control."

      I strongly hope you are more in control of your mental health by choosing a life without medication and I am very glad you don't recommend others to quit theirs without consulting their psychiatrist.

      I AM Bipolar and proud of it too! Your title is a great one to my opinion.

      I wrote the Hub - To be or to Have Bipolar Disorder. The question you mention as a title is a very relevant one.

      I don't agree with Lambservant....The world must see me as a person AND as Bipolar because my identity is defined by both. Without Bipolar Disorder I wouldn't be the strong person I am today.

      I hope you'll succeed in a life without medication because you deserve to achieve the best quality of life after such a long time of suffering.

      Shared, up and interesting!

    • torrilynn profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi Sheila,

      thanks for the read and or sharing the differences between the two

      to me and other hubbers. continue to share your amazing work. and i

      hope to hear more from you in the future.

      Voted up.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I have been through this exasperating diagnosis musical chairs. You are absolutely correct - ask the doctors questions to clarify. I would add, educate yourself on both mental disorders. We need to be our own advocate and dispel the notion that you are the patient and must accept whatever the doctor says or does. Poppycock! If they start yo yo-ing around with diagnosis, just stop them and say, let's not worry about the label, let's start finding the solution. What medication or treatment is most effective for my "symptoms" not my diagnosis. Mental disorders and their symptoms vary widely with each individual. You treat the symptoms in my book. That is what I had to do. I am so disgusted with the psychiatric community. And the DSM is old school. Most up-to-date pyschiatrists will tell you so. If you read it you will see how narrow the diangoses can be. It isn't reality. A new DSM is about to come out and already there is much controversy surrounding it. Thanks for a great hub Sheila. BTW, I think it more helpful for us to ask "Do I have bipolar or depression?" rather than "Am I bipolar or depressed?" We and the world need to start seeing ourselves as people first. I don't want my identity to be my diagnosis. Blessings Sheila.


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