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What Is the Difference Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder?

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In this article, the major differences between depression and bipolar disorder are explained. To understand it, let us look into both mental conditions. 

Depression is characterized by a state of low mood that lasts for several weeks. It is generally confused with ordinary sadness, but it is a depleting mental condition. Anyone can get depressed, regardless of age, gender, or race.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by one or more episodes of mania or hypomania, often with a history of one or more major depressive episodes.   

Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Depression is a prolonged state of a low mood and sadness. It can last for weeks, months, even years if left undiagnosed. It is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression.  Depression is more prevalent in women as seen across different cultures and countries. Women tend to talk more about their emotions and express their feelings more often than men. It is more difficult for men to acknowledge depression, as they tend to hide or, camouflage their emotions. Men usually show more anger and rage than sadness. A depressed man may drown himself in work or other different types of addictions including risk taking behaviours. 

On the other hand, bipolar disorder/mood disorder is more cyclical: it can swing from a high elated feeling to feeling low, worthless/useless. It is also known as manic depression. One should be concerned if a person feels that their or someone else’s mood has shorter cyclic changes. For example, from being in a sad, shell, numb, guilty or closed off state to extremes of anger, extravagant, on the go 24X7, with a decreased need to sleep.

Bipolar disorder is usually a combination of both mania and hypomania conditions. Manic behaviour is when a person experiences an unusually drastic shift in their mood resulting of excitement, high energetic activity levels, have extreme talkativeness, or irritation. Other symptoms of a manic phase can be feelings of grandiosity such as inflated self-esteem, extreme hurry, increased distractibility, reduced need for sleep, and having racing thoughts, distraction and inability to perform daily tasks with ease. 

On the other hand, hypomania is characterized by…

The onset time can range from a few days to weeks. This makes bipolar disorder more complicated than depression and often even more confusing than depression as well at times. 

What are the Types of Depression?

There are mainly nine types of depression, one of which is bipolar disorder. Let us have a glance at the different types of depression:

  • Major depression/ major depressive disorder      
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal depression/ Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder)
  • Atypical depression
  • Persistent depression
  • Depressive psychosis
  • Situational depression
  • Peripartum/ postpartum depression 

What are the Types of Bipolar Disorder (BD)?

As bipolar disorder is a combination of symptoms, it is classified as per the following types of combinations: 

  1. BD-I. One may undergo one or more episodes of mania (a state of intense energy and exaggerated behaviours). There may be episodic hypomania (reduced or less energy level than usual) and major depression issues before or after the maniac episodes.
  2. BD-II. One may experience one or more hypomania and major depressive episodes. Person may not experience severe mania.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder. Person may experience multiple episodes of hypomania and episodes of depression that are less severe. As per the criteria, one may have had these episodes with not all the extreme symptoms of highs and depression.
  4. Others. The mood cycles may get severe with an overdose of drugs, alcohol, or due to any other disease.

Symptomatic Difference between Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Any kind of depression can be caused by multiple factors. A diagnosis should be made at the earliest by a qualified experienced professional. Mental disorders are taboo in many societies and countries, and one should not be ashamed of them. Everyone should know that depression is a mood disorder and can happen to anyone, like a common cold, cough, or flu.

Some of the signs and symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder to better differentiate between the two are:

Symptoms of depression

If one experiences frequent episodes of the following:

  • Feeling sad, low or hopeless, uncontrollable- crying, feeling blue, 
  • Restlessness, occasional anxiety.
  • You have a rather pessimistic mindset and are hard on yourself.
  • You count your failures more than your achievements.
  • Blaming yourself for no reason at all.
  • Fear of future failure and criticism.
  • Lack of concentration or inability to focus on work for a longer duration.
  • Pushing yourself to work and a notable loss of work efficiency.
  • Frequently finding yourself in a state of confusion and inability to make decisions.
  • Physical lethargy and lack of motivation to exercise.
  • Frequent headaches with no explanations.
  • Self-isolation, unwillingness to socialize.
  • Suicidal thoughts or homicidal thoughts 
  • History of suicide attempts.

Maintaining a mood diary can help track and not miss a diagnosis. Seek professional help, if these symptoms are last for more than two (02) weeks.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

These are more complex, as they change with the type of bipolar disorder. There are three basic symptoms: depression, hypomania, and mania. It is a combination of all three in different ratios. 

When to See a doctor?

If you have the above symptoms and notice a significant effect in your daily routine and thinking pattern, seek professional help. Do not be ashamed of consulting a doctor or getting treated. An assessment is never a bad idea, as it will assure the cause of your symptoms and help you live a healthy life. Also, it is preferred to seek help from your loved ones to help you visit the doctor. 

Many people find it difficult to seek medical help for such mental health conditions. This is due to social stigma and shame. It is important to stop the social stigma and help each other fight mental conditions together. 

Call emergency care if you encounter such signs and symptoms of feeling extreme sadness, low or lonely, feeling suicidal. There are several suicide helplines to prevent you from committing self-harm. You can also call your local helpline.


Psychological help line nos. in India are:  24/7 KIRAN DEPwD 18005990019, NIMHANS 08046110007, VANDREVALA FOUNDATION +91-9999666555, FORTIS MENTAL HEALTH 8376804102, AASRA 9820466726. Mon-sat 8am-10pm iCALL 9152987821, 022-25221111

What Causes Depression and Bipolar Disorder?

  • Depression is caused by 

Biological changes in the brain due to stress, malnutrition, emotional neglect, emotional trauma, change in brain chemical function (neurotransmitters), hormonal changes, and family history or any other disruptive cause.

  • Bipolar disorder is caused by 

Chemical imbalances leading to functional and some biochemical changes in the brain and genetic influence. The cause of this type of mental disorder can be genetic and/or non-genetic. There are psychosocial theories for development of mood disorders.

In bipolar disorder, usually, the mood swings do occur rapidly. However, if mood swings occur more than four times a year, it is known as rapid cycling. Bipolar disorder greatly affects a person’s livelihood, as it causes an impaired perception of circumstances and the inability to think clearly. Thus, negatively affecting their social functioning. 

How are they Diagnosed?

The following are some of the tests that your doctor might conduct for the diagnosis of depression:

  • Physical evaluation.
  • Blood test.
  • Psychiatric questionnaire for evaluation. Such as PHQ-9 or GAD -7
  • DSM-5, ICD-10 criteria checklist.
  • In the case of children, the diagnosis becomes more difficult, as children are usually diagnosed with other mental health conditions that have similar signs and symptoms. Some of these are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and behaviour problems.

How are they treated?


The most effective treatment for a majority of individuals with depression is medication and psychotherapy. You may be prescribed medicines to reduce the symptoms. It is beneficial to consult a psychiatrist or psychologist. If you have life-threatening depression, it may be wiser to get admitted for proper care. It is very important to continue the medication under the psychiatrist consult as per the medication dosages and duration. Do not suddenly stop taking medication on your own or mix the medication. It is harmful to take psychiatric medication and use, alcohol, nicotine or any other psychotropic drug.

 One may be prescribed some of these common medicines:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
  • Atypical antidepressants.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Antidepressant enhancers.

Bipolar disorder.

The treatment is administered by the doctors and nurses of the psychiatry department. Treatment is given for symptomatic management. The doctor will evaluate the stages and severity of the disorder and accordingly do the needful. Treatments that are usually administered are as follows:

  • Medications.
  • Maintenance treatment to avoid relapse.
  • Day treatment programs that include counselling and mental support.
  • De-addiction, if needed. This is only if you have a habit of, or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
  • Hospitalization is based on severity. It can be essential for any type of bipolar disorder.  

How to Prevent Depression and Bipolar Disorder?

Follow these listed tips to try and prevent depression:

  • Stress management.
  • Seek help from loved ones.
  • Get treatment at the earliest if you see any signs and symptoms.
  • Avoid relapse by following up with your doctor for years to come. 

However, bipolar disorder cannot be prevented for sure. You can monitor the symptoms and keep an eye on them. Seek early medical help to prevent worsening of the condition.


Mental health is as important as physical health. A mental disorder should be considered as any other disease and treated like it. Seeking help as early as possible is the key to treatment. Early diagnosis buys time for further diagnosis and proper treatment. 

If you feel mentally ill or feel like your loved one needs help, convince them, and give them a helping hand. Therapy, counselling, and medications can definitely treat depression and make life better to live.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Are depression and bipolar disorder different?

Yes, they are two different conditions. A major depressive disorder is also known as depression for easier reference. Whereas bipolar disorder is a type of depression along with manic phase.

Q. When should we call for emergency help?

Immediately call for help if you have suicidal thoughts. You can also call your mentor or spiritual guide. If you have a family member who has recently attempted suicide, be with them. It is important to be a positive influence on them. Do not leave the person alone, unattended. Keep sharp objects, weapons, loose strings, medications, cleaning agents away from the vicinity of the person. Seek medical help as early as possible.

Verified By Dr Namita Singh
Ph.D. in Psychology, M.Phil.-Specialization Neuropsychology, Consultant Psychologist, Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
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