What Is the Difference Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder?

Last updated date: 06-Sep-2021

Apollo Cancer Institutes, Chennai

7 mins read

In this article, we will discuss and note the major differences between depression and bipolar disorder. To understand it, let us look into both the 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 serious 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 sad state of mind and elevated mood disorder. It can last for weeks, months, even years if left undiagnosed. It is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It is more difficult to note depression in men, as they tend to hide their emotions. Men usually show more anger and rage than sadness. A depressed man may drown himself in work or overdrink.

On the other hand, bipolar disorder is a type of depression. It is also known as manic depression. One should be concerned if they feel mood swings that are mild or extreme.

It is usually a combination of mania or hypomania conditions. Manic behavior is when a person experiences an unusual shift in the mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to perform daily tasks. As the name suggests, “hypo” means lesser, “mania” means manic behavior. It is basically the same, but less intense than mania.  

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


What are the Types of Depression?

There are majorly 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 type of combinations: 

  1. BD-I. You may undergo one or more episodes of mania (a state of intense energy and exaggerated behaviors). It may cause episodic hypomania (reduced or less energy level than usual) and major depression issues before or after the maniac episodes.
  2. BD-II. You may experience one or more hypomania and major depressive episodes. You will not experience mania.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder. You may experience multiple episodes of hypomania and episodes of depression that are less severe  As per the criteria, you  have had these episodes for around a  year if you are under the age of 18 years  and for two years if you are an adult.
  4. Others. These can get severe with   overdose of  drugs, alcohol, or any other disease.


Symptomatic Difference between Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Any kind of depression can be caused by a genetic and/or a non-genetic factor.  a diagnosis should be made at the earliest. Mental disorders are taboo in some countries, and you should not be ashamed of them. You should keep in mind that depression is a mood disorder and can happen to anyone.

Let us look at the signs and symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder to better differentiate between the two.

Symptoms of depression

You know that you have depression if you get frequent episodes of the following:

  • Feeling sad, low or hopeless.  crying, feeling blues, 
  • 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. 

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 sad, low or lonely. There are several suicide helplines to prevent you from committing a mistake. You can also call your local helpline.


What Causes Depression and Bipolar Disorder?

  • Depression is caused by 

Physical or biological changes in the brain due to stress or peer pressure or could be any other reason, change in brain chemical function (neurotransmitters), hormonal changes, and family history.

  • Bipolar disorder is caused by 

Physical or biological changes in the brain and genetic influence. The cause of this type of mental disorder can be genetic and/or non-genetic. 

Bipolar disorder can easily be confused with a borderline personality disorder if the mood swings change very frequently. In bipolar disorder, usually, the mood does not swing that 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?

Following are 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 criteria comparison. 

Following are the tests your doctor might conduct for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder:

  • Physical evaluation.
  • Psychiatric examination by verbal evaluation and questionnaire.
  • Mood and sleep charting.
  • DSM-5 criteria comparison.

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 Disorder (ADHD), hyperactivity disorder, and behavior 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.

You 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. Even if it is a lifelong problem, treatment is given for symptomatic management.

Your doctor will evaluate the stages and severity of your 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 counseling and mental support.
  • De-addiction, if needed. This is only if you have a habit 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 below-listed tips to try and prevent depression:

  • Stress control.
  • 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 a 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, counseling, 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.

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. 

Q. What happens if the medicines and therapies are not working? 

In such a case, your doctor may suggest alternative treatment options. These include Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – uses electrical pulses, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – uses a special magnet, and Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) – uses an implanted device. 


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