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What's The Difference Between Bipolar And Depression

Updated on February 26, 2013
Is it Depression or Bipolar Disorder ?
Is it Depression or Bipolar Disorder ?

What is the difference between bipolar and depression?

In the United states it is estimated that about 26% of the population, over 18, suffer from some form of mental illness. However, no one is sure how accurate these numbers are because a lot of people suffering from mental illnesses never report it, or get the help they need. Unsurprisingly 90% of people who commit suicide are listed as having an undiagnosed mental condition. A lot of those individuals have one of the two illness' listed above, but what is the difference between bipolar and depression?

The most common mental illness in America is depression. For this reason, and the fact that bipolar and depression have some similarities, a lot of people suffering from bipolar disorder find themselves diagnosed with clinical depression. Doctors see many patients throughout the day, and honestly have little time to spend with each one. If they hear and see classic signs of depression a lot of times they will run with that, without delving any farther. This isn't because they don’t know what they're doing, they simply just don’t always have the time. In fact, somewhere between 10 - 25 % of individuals with bipolar were first diagnosed by their doctor as having clinical depression.

It can be very dangerous for someone who is bipolar to be misdiagnosed with depression. The medications a bipolar person needs are very different from the medications a depressive person needs. Anti-depressives can make bipolar symptoms much worse, and can lead to rage, not being able to think clearly, and suicide. So, for this reason it's important to know the difference between bipolar and depression before you go to the doctor.

Bipolar Can Be Mistaken For Other Illnesses
Bipolar Can Be Mistaken For Other Illnesses


Depression is characterized by an ongoing feeling of unhappiness. These feelings can last for weeks, months, or even years. There are no mood swings associated with depression, it is a constant feeling of low. A person with depression may experience :

  • Extreme unhappiness
  • Sadness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of energy
  • Avoidance of friends and loved ones and things they normally enjoy
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Suicidal thoughts

This is not a complete list, for more information please see your doctor.

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

Depression is a huge part of bipolar although it tends to be more extreme in cases of bipolar than clinical depression. What sets bipolar apart from depression is mania. A sufferer of bipolar goes through extreme mood swings, from very low (depression) to very high (mania). A person going through these mood swings finds it almost impossible to control their actions, and most times they can not think in a logical manner. Someone with bipolar is almost completely at the mercy of their own feelings. Most of the time there is no reason for the mood swings at all, a person who is happy one minute can become very angry the next, without anything having caused it.

Symptoms Of Mania

Mania is the very high, almost drug-like, mood that occurs with bipolar disorder. Although the person suffering with mania feels great, it's dangerous because it causes a person to act differently than they normally would. Symptoms of mania include :

  • Unnaturally high self-esteem
  • Grandiose thoughts (thinking you are ‘special’, gifted, overly important, have special powers)
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Becoming more talkative, talking faster than usual
  • Racing thoughts that can’t be stopped
  • Short attention span
  • Extreme productivity
  • Sexual appetite increase
  • Spending money foolishly
  • Engaging in dangerous activities (drugs, unprotected sex, etc)
  • Very spontaneous attitude, jumping into things without thinking logically
  • Overly happy
  • Aggression, picking fights with others
  • Irritable attitude
  • Becoming Violent
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoid thoughts

This is not a complete list of bipolar symptoms, and not all bipolar individuals experience all of these.

No one is sure of the exact cause of bipolar disorder, but it does tend to run in families especially on the maternal side. Bipolar is linked to high blood pressure, migraines, heart disease, diabetes, as well as substance abuse problems. If you feel you may have bipolar please contact a doctor immediately.

How Do I Know If I'm Bipolar

Now you have a basic understanding of the difference between bipolar and depression but remember the only person who can diagnose you with bipolar or depression is your doctor. However, if you have read over this article and feel that you have the symptoms of bipolar disorder I advise that you see a psychiatrist instead of your family doctor. Bipolar disorder is a complicated illness and a normal doctor simply isn't as knowledgeable as a psychiatrist is, in this area.

What Is Depression?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

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    • PoeticPhilosophy profile image

      PoeticPhilosophy 4 years ago from Canada

      This is a very very very hard one for me. Most people who know me "think" I have bipolar but that's only cause I pronounced I thought I had a problem in the first place or else they would've thought I was normal. I think about it, I know the cause to every symptom I have and they're not thought's of denial or thinking it, they actually are the 'true' reasons so this one is very hard for me. I use to think I was gifted not anymore but with this I actually proved my due, so this is where it's so hard! It's 50/50 for me, I got it or I don't. But thanks for postin this ad you get straight forward to the point. I'm followin you now :)

    • las81071 profile image

      las81071 4 years ago

      thanks for the info. I think I will continue to read and perhaps make a doctors appointment. Thank you

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Thanks! My aim is to always simplify things, there is no use using fancy words and medical terms normal people don't understand, because WE are the ones searching for this info. not the doctors who write most of these articles! Everything I write is from my own experiences, and I decide to write half the stuff I do because when I was searching for it online I couldn't find anything that put things in a simple way that I could understand.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 5 years ago from Canada

      This is a fantastic hub. Well written and explains things in a simple manner anyone with questions about these two mental illnesses can understand.

    • michememe profile image

      Miche Wro 5 years ago

      Thank you. It is hard, but I am safe within my thoughts and that is important to me.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      It can be really hard to take that first step...but once you do it only gets better from there! Congrats on having the courage to get help :)

    • michememe profile image

      Miche Wro 5 years ago

      Thanks for writing this hub. I suffer from depression, the doctor is still out on the bipolar. However, it is stated that I have mood swings (a step before bipolar). I know this, if anyone feels that they are off in the way the think, they should see a doctor right away. I had no idea I was dealing with depression. My sister suggested I see a doctor because I was always down and sleeping. Well needless to say that was the best thing I did. I feel better, I feel like me again.