Bipolar vs Depression, Understanding the Difference

Bipolar vs depression are distinct mood disorders. Bipolar involves mood swings from mania to depression, while depression is a prolonged low-mood state. Understanding their differences is crucial for proper diagnosis and effective treatment.

Bipolar vs Depression

Bipolar disorder and depression are different mental health conditions with some common symptoms. Knowing the differences between them is crucial to diagnose and treat them correctly. Even though both conditions cause mood changes, how people’s moods change and how often they change are very different. In this article, we look at how bipolar disorder and depression are different, including their symptoms, how long they last, and how they are treated. By understanding these differences, people and those who care about them can get the right help and support to deal with these complex mental health conditions.


Depression is a mood disorder that causes people to feel sad, lose interest or pleasure in things, and not want to do anything. Some common signs are:

  • Loss of Interest: Not caring about or enjoying things you used to.
  • Fatigue: means feeling tired or lacking energy all the time.
  • Changes in appetite are when eating habits cause a person to lose or gain a lot of weight.
  • Trouble focusing: Trouble paying attention, making choices, or remembering things.
  • Feelings of Not Being Worth Much: Feeling like you don’t matter or that you’re too guilty.
  • Having thoughts of hurting yourself or killing yourself.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by alternating periods of mania or hypomania and depression. Symptoms include:

  • Manic Episode: Elevated mood, increased energy, impulsive behavior, racing thoughts.
  • Hypomanic Episode: Milder mania, often productive and creative, but with potential risk-taking.
  • Depressive Episode: Prolonged sadness, loss of interest, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Mood Swings: Rapid shifts between manic and depressive states.
  • Impaired Functioning: Difficulty in daily activities and relationships during episodes.

Bipolar vs Bipolar Disorder Chart

Bipolar DisorderDepression
Mood EpisodesAlternating periods of mania/hypomania and depressionProlonged period of persistent low mood (depression)
Manic/Hypomanic EpisodesPresent in bipolar disorder, not in depressionNot present in depression
Duration of Mood Episodes
It can last for weeks to months or longer

Can last for weeks to months or longer
Mood SwingsRapid shifts between extreme moodsConsistently low mood
Energy Levels
High energy during manic/hypomanic episodes
Low energy and fatigue
ImpulsivityIncreased impulsivity during manic episodesLess impulsivity
Sleep PatternsDecreased need for sleep during manic episodesSleep disturbances, either insomnia or hypersomnia
Suicidal ThoughtsMore common during depressive episodesCommon during severe depressive episodes
Treatment ApproachRequires mood stabilizers and management of manic symptomsAntidepressants and therapies focused on depression
Table 1. Characterizes the Difference between Bipolar Disorder and Depression.

Bipolar vs Depression Fact Sheet

What is Bipolar Disorder?

  • Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized by significant mood swings, alternating between manic or hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes.
  • It affects approximately 2.8% of adults in the United States, with symptoms typically appearing in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but individuals can lead fulfilling lives with proper diagnosis, treatment, and support.

Bipolar Disorder Types

  • Bipolar 1 Disorder: Involves manic episodes lasting at least one week and often accompanied by depressive episodes. May include severe impairment and potential psychotic features.
  • Bipolar 2 Disorder: Characterized by hypomanic episodes (less severe than full mania) and prominent depressive episodes. Psychosis is not present in Bipolar 2.


  • Manic Episode Symptoms:
    • Elevated mood or irritability.
    • Increased energy and activity levels.
    • Decreased need for sleep.
    • Racing thoughts and fast speech.
    • Impulsivity and risk-taking behavior.
    • Grandiose beliefs or inflated self-esteem.

Depressive Episode Symptoms:

  • Persistent sadness or loss of interest in activities.
  • Fatigue and low energy levels.
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or oversleeping).
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Changes in appetite lead to weight changes.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.


  • A comprehensive psychiatric evaluation is necessary for diagnosis.
  • A diagnosis may be challenging as symptoms overlap with other mental health conditions.
  • A thorough evaluation considers medical history, family history, and the pattern of mood swings.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar Disorder Medication: Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants are commonly prescribed to manage symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy can help individuals cope with mood swings and improve coping strategies.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and stress management are beneficial in managing symptoms.

Long-Term Outlook

  • Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but with consistent treatment and support, many individuals experience periods of stability and improved functioning.
  • Early intervention and ongoing management are vital in reducing the disorder’s impact on daily life.
  • Building a solid support system and adhering to a treatment plan is critical to improving the overall quality of life for those with bipolar disorder.

Depression Overview

Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is a prevalent and severe mood disorder affecting millions worldwide. It goes beyond occasional sadness and leads to persistent emotional and physical symptoms that interfere with daily life.

Types of Depression

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): The most common form, characterized by severe depressive symptoms lasting at least two weeks.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): Symptoms last two years or longer, with periods of less severe depression.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Depression occurring during specific seasons, often related to changes in light exposure.
  • Postpartum Depression (PPD): Occurs after childbirth, affecting new mothers.

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Biological Factors: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, genetics, and changes in brain structure.
  • Environmental Factors: Chronic stress, trauma, loss, or significant life changes.
  • Co-Occurring Conditions: Depression can occur alongside other mental health disorders like anxiety or substance use disorders.


  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and other evidence-based therapies help individuals develop coping skills and address negative thought patterns.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, healthy eating, sufficient sleep, and stress management can complement treatment.

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Bipolar vs Depression Statistics

The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is around 25 years old, affecting about 2.8% of adults worldwide. The average time to get an accurate diagnosis is nearly 10 years because of the high rate of misdiagnosis. The condition appears to be slightly more common in women. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder are more likely to struggle with anxiety and substance abuse. Medication non-adherence is a common problem, and relapse rates remain significant, despite the availability of effective treatments like medication and psychotherapy (especially CBT and Interpersonal Therapy). About half of people with severe episodes need to be hospitalized.

About 15% to 20% of people with bipolar disorder will make a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. Direct medical costs and lost productivity contribute significantly to the financial strain on individuals and society caused by bipolar disorder. The best way to manage bipolar disorder and help those suffering from it live better is through early diagnosis, treatment adherence, and support.


Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.8% of adults in the United States.

Source: CDC

25 years

The average age of onset for bipolar disorder.

Source: CDC

60% of individuals

Experiencing a relapse within two years of their first episode after undergoing treatment.

Source: CDC

Depression in Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes extreme highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression) at different times. During depressive episodes of bipolar disorder, people have symptoms that are similar to those of major depressive disorder, such as feeling sad all the time, losing interest in activities, being tired, having changes in their sleep patterns, and feeling worthless or having suicidal thoughts. Bipolar disorder is characterized by these bouts of depression, called “depressive episodes.

” In the context of bipolar disorder, “depressive episodes” is the only term to describe them. The difference between bipolar disorder and unipolar depression (major depressive disorder) is that bipolar disorder has both manic/hypomanic and depressive episodes. Bipolar disorder needs to be correctly diagnosed and managed during depressive episodes to develop a suitable treatment plan that helps with depression in bipolar disorders.

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Bipolar vs Depression Treatment & Diagnosis


Bipolar Disorder: A thorough psychiatric evaluation, where the health care provider looks at the person’s medical history, symptoms, and mood patterns, is needed to diagnose bipolar disorder. For a person to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they must have both manic or hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes. Mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to make an accurate diagnosis.

Depression: To diagnose depression (major depressive disorder), you have to look at the person’s emotional and physical symptoms, such as feeling sad all the time, losing interest in things, sleeping and eating differently, and thinking of being worthless or killing yourself. For a DSM-5 diagnosis of depression, the symptoms must have been present for at least two weeks.


Bipolar Disorder:

  • Mood stabilizers are medicines like lithium, valproate, and lamotrigine that help stop manic and depressive episodes and stop mood swings.
  • Antipsychotics: Atypical antipsychotics like aripiprazole and olanzapine can help control manic or mixed episodes.
  • Antidepressants (with care): Antidepressants may be used with mood stabilizers to treat depressive symptoms in some cases. But they are often used with care so they don’t cause manic episodes.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT), and Family-Focused Therapy can help manage the condition and build coping skills.


  • Antidepressants: SSRIs, SNRIs, and other antidepressants are often given to treat depression.
  • Psychotherapy: Therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) help people learn how to deal with problems, change negative thought patterns, and feel better overall.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): ECT may be suggested for people with severe depression or depression that doesn’t respond to other treatments.

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Bipolar Disorder vs Depression Medication

Bipolar Disorder Medications

Mood Stabilizers: Mood stabilizing medications are the cornerstone of treating bipolar disorder. Lithium is a common mood stabilizer that helps control manic and depressive episodes, making mood swings less frequent and more severe. Other mood stabilizers, like valproate and lamotrigine, may also be given, depending on how each person responds and their symptoms.

Antipsychotics: Bipolar disorder patients with manic or mixed episodes are treated with atypical antipsychotics. They help keep a person’s mood stable and keep symptoms like agitation and irritation in check. Aripiprazole, quetiapine, and olanzapine are commonly prescribed antipsychotics for bipolar disorder.

Antidepressants (with care): Antidepressants can be given along with mood stabilizers to treat depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder. But they have to be used carefully so as not to cause manic episodes, and they are usually used with mood stabilizers.

Medications For Depression

Antidepressants: The primary way to treat depression (major depressive disorder) is with antidepressant drugs. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are two common types of antidepressants used to treat depression. Other classes of antidepressants, like tricyclic antidepressants and atypical antidepressants, may also be used depending on how each person responds and how well they can handle them.

Atypical antidepressants, like bupropion and mirtazapine, work differently than SSRIs and SNRIs, but they are still effective at treating depression because they target different neurotransmitters.

Tricyclic Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are older antidepressants used when other treatments don’t work or don’t work well.

Serotonin Modulators and Stimulators: Vortioxetine and vilazodone are two medications that affect serotonin levels but work differently than SSRIs and SNRIs.

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We Level Up Inpatient Bipolar Disorder and Depression Treatment

At We Level Up, we know the unique problems that people with bipolar disorder face, and our team is committed to helping them get better by giving them comprehensive and specialized inpatient treatment. Our inpatient bipolar treatment program gives people with severe mood swings and those who need intensive therapeutic help a safe and structured place to live.

  • Personalized Treatment Plans: When a patient comes in, our experienced psychiatric team thoroughly evaluates them to determine the best way to treat them. We make treatment plans for each person unique to their needs, symptoms, and goals because we know that no two people’s paths to recovery are the same.
  • Support and care are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at our inpatient facility. Our caring and trained staff are always there to help and care for our patients. This level of care creates a place where patients can heal and get better without being distracted.
  • Medication Management: Our board-certified psychiatrists closely monitor medication schedules and adjust doses as needed to get the best control of symptoms. We use medications that have been shown to work, like mood stabilizers and antipsychotics, to stop mood swings and stop them from happening again.
  • Therapeutic Interventions: Our inpatient program offers a wide range of therapies that have been shown to work, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and individual and group counseling. These therapies help people understand their illness, learn how to deal with it, and get stronger to handle their symptoms better.
  • Wellness and Life Skills: Our treatment plan includes training in life skills and wellness programs taught by our team of experts from different fields. These are meant to give people the tools and skills to deal with life’s problems, start healthy habits, and improve their overall health.
  • Community and Peer Support: Our inpatient setting encourages peer support and helps patients feel like they are part of a group. Patients can connect, relate, and grow together in a supportive environment made possible by group therapy and shared experiences.
  • Transition Planning: As a patient’s treatment goes on, we work to make the change from inpatient care to outpatient care as smooth as possible. Our team works closely with patients and their families to make detailed plans for aftercare. This ensures that patients get support and care even after leaving the hospital.

At We Level Up, we aim to give people with bipolar disorder and depression the tools to get back in charge of their lives and reach their fullest potential. Our inpatient bipolar treatment program gives people a caring, safe, and structured place to find hope, heal, and help start a life-changing recovery path.

  1. The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder is?

    The best way to treat someone is different, and it may take some time to find the right treatments for each person. People with bipolar disorder need to stick with their treatments and get ongoing support from their doctors, loved ones, and the mental health community to have stable moods and a better quality of life.

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  • Staying Positive
  • Practicing Gratitude
  • Taking Care of Your Physical Health
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  • Developing a Sense of Meaning and Purpose in Life
  • Developing Coping Skills
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation Techniques

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Search We Level Up WA Bipolar vs Depression, Understanding the Difference, Mental Health Topics & Resources
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  3. Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed Dec. 2, 2016.Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
  4. Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed Dec. 2, 2016.Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
  5. Bipolar disorder in children and teens. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed Dec. 2, 2016.Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
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  8. Bipolar disorder: The course bipolar disorder. (n.d.) Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
  9. Depression. (2016, March) Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
  10. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, February 10). Bipolar disorder: Symptoms Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression
  11. Perlis, R. H., Brown, E., Baker, R. W., Nierenberg, A. A., (2006, February). Clinical features of bipolar depression versus major depressive disorder in large multicenter trials. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(2), 225-231 Learn More: Bipolar vs Depression

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