The depressive phase of bipolar disorder is so similar to major depression that the former is sometimes misdiagnosed as the latter. If you, a friend or a family member has been feeling down for longer than usual, it helps to know the signs of a deeper underlying mental health condition.
Additionally, understanding the differences between bipolar depression vs. depression can help you take the right steps to protect your mental well-being and, when necessary, seek help from the right professionals.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is generally described as experiencing prolonged periods of sadness, and while many symptoms of major depressive disorder can occur in generally healthy individuals, experiencing multiple symptoms at a time for consecutive weeks is a strong indicator of major depression.
People with depression often describe feelings of hopelessness and a loss of interest in activities they previously found enjoyable. Extreme variances in eating patterns, ranging from reduced appetites and abrupt weight loss to heightened food cravings and rapid weight gain, are also common signs of depression.
During a depressive episode, many people experience persistent negative thought patterns. These may include thinking about death and even suicidal ideation and attempts to take their own life in individuals with the most severe cases of depression.
However, not all negative thought patterns involve physical danger. People with depression frequently report having difficulty concentrating and staying on task. Sometimes, this is the result of the mind being preoccupied with feelings of hopelessness or having low self-worth.
Depression symptoms also manifest physically. From unexplained back pain and headaches to insomnia and oversleeping, the physical symptoms of depression can amplify the mental effects, leading to vicious cycles where the most routine daily activities, such as brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, seem like insurmountable tasks.
Symptoms of Bipolar
You may have wondered what the difference is between manic depression vs. bipolar. Diagnoses for bipolar disorder fall into three categories: bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder. All three types involve periods of elevated mood and periods of depression. At the same time, cyclothymic disorder is considered a milder form of bipolar where mood swings occur more frequently but with less severity.
People with bipolar I and bipolar II experience manic and hypomanic episodes, respectively. Manic episodes in people with bipolar I are generally more severe; however, people with bipolar II have longer periods of depression.
Someone with bipolar disorder in the throes of a manic or hypomanic episode may seem more talkative than normal or unusually excited. During these heightened states, people with bipolar disorder may also be easily distracted and feel like they need less sleep than normal. Euphoria and feeling overly confident with your thoughts, actions and plans are also typical during these manic and hypomanic episodes. This overconfidence often leads people to become abnormally impulsive and reckless, taking risks that they normally wouldn’t.
It’s worth noting that, for people already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, various substances such as alcohol and drugs can exacerbate symptoms.
Differences and Similarities in the Treatment for Bipolar Depression vs. Depression
When it comes to bipolar depression vs. depression, both of these disorders are routinely treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, participants learn how to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and focus on replacing them with healthy ones. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy is similar. It also focuses on positive behaviors, but it stresses creating a habit of them. This often includes tasks such as waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, adopting a regular exercise regimen and sustaining a healthy diet.
Psychotherapy isn’t effective for everyone. Some individuals, often those who experience the more severe depressive phases, respond better to other therapeutic treatments.
For medications, both bipolar disorder and major depression treatments involve antidepressants, which often take 4-6 weeks before their full effect is felt. However, for many people with bipolar disorder, antidepressants can induce mania. This is part of the reason why individuals may also be prescribed mood stabilizers or antipsychotics.
Can Bipolar and Depression Be Self-Treated?
Practicing self-care can help reduce the severity of depressive episodes in people with bipolar and major depressive disorder. According to findings from a collection of surveys published in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies journal, various supplements and activities have shown effectiveness in reducing feelings of depression and anxiety.
Based on self-reports from the respective survey respondents, the data shows that exercise, herbal medicines such as St. John’s wort and relaxation techniques had the largest impact. Those who took the survey also reported that mindfulness meditation was among the more helpful tasks they performed to reduce feelings of depression.
Johns Hopkins, one of the country’s top 10 medical centers, mentions a variety of steps that individuals can take to combat depression in addition to seeking professional help. Specifically, they recommend eating well-balanced meals and exercising regularly. They also advise taking it slow, being patient with yourself and setting reasonable goals so you don’t feel overwhelmed. To avoid worsening symptoms of depression, avoid alcohol and other drugs.
While the steps outlined above can go a long way in helping reduce the severity of depression, you’ll need a prescription from a licensed psychiatrist or another medical professional if you want to try medication. Most pharmaceuticals involved in the treatment of these disorders aren’t available over the counter.
Importance of Seeking Help for Major Depression and Bipolar Mood Disorders
The depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder and major depression can negatively affect every aspect of your life. Left untreated, both of these mood disorders can hamper your ability to succeed in school and the workplace, as well as strain your personal relationships.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder or major depression, don’t wait to seek help. According to Johns Hopkins and other major healthcare providers, experiencing five or more symptoms of depression for 2 weeks or more means it’s time to reach out to a qualified mental health professional.
Contact Restore Mental Health and begin the process of healing your mind today.