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Bipolar disorder and depression: What's the difference?

Bipolar Disorder and Depression: What’s the Difference?

Almost 10 percent of Americans struggle with mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression. These are conditions that primarily affect a person’s mood, which is their general emotional state over a period of time. Wherein something like anger would be a specific emotion, a mood can be understood as a baseline of feeling over time.

Mood disorders occur when a person’s mood is inexplicably low or high for no obvious extant reason, such as feeling continuously depressed with no real understanding as to why.

Most people understand that an unreasonable state of sadness might be a sign of poor mental health, but an unreasonably “high mood” can also be a cause for concern. We aren’t talking about happiness or cheerfulness, but rather, mania.

This is a state of being that includes feelings of grandeur, excessive energy, restlessness, nervousness, exorbitant confidence, and sometimes aggression. Manic symptoms over a longer period of time, with no other obvious reasons (such as substance use, an external agitator or motivation, or another existing condition) are often a sign of bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by manic symptoms and depressive symptoms. Most cases of bipolar disorder involve a cycle of either or both types of disordered mood, at a rate of one or two cycles per year.

Someone with bipolar disorder does not just experience mood swings. Bipolar disorder also doesn’t explain constant changes in personality or feelings of sudden aggression.

Most people with bipolar disorder may experience weeks or months of severe depression, a period of dysthymia, and a short period of mania, all within the span of a year. In rare cases, an individual can quickly cycle between manic and depressive bipolar symptoms. This is called rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder and Manic Depression

Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. Nowadays, we know that not all forms of bipolar disorder have full-blown signs of mania and depressive symptoms, but that there are common variants with hypomanic (more subtle mania) symptoms and depression, overwhelming mania, or mostly depressive episodes.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Aside from rapid cycling bipolar disorder, there are multiple different types of bipolar disorder. Generally speaking, clients can be diagnosed with either bipolar I or bipolar II.

  • Bipolar I is characterized by manic symptoms that last at least seven days or a level of mania so severe that it causes hospitalization. Bipolar I usually includes depressive episodes as well, of at least two weeks. However, the primary characteristic is severe mania.
  • Bipolar II is characterized by hypomania, or less-severe manic symptoms, alongside depressive episodes.
  • Some people also experience cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia. This is a form of bipolar disorder characterized by mild mania and depression. In these cases, a person’s symptoms must last over two years (or one year if they aren’t an adult) and must fail to match the criteria of a full manic or depressive episode.

If a person’s symptoms do not fit into the previously mentioned categories, a psychiatrist may still diagnose them with bipolar disorder if no other explanation is found. In these cases, they may be diagnosed with an “other specified or unspecified bipolar or related disorder.”

How Do Mood Disorders Occur?

Mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression are still a complicated and oft-researched topic in the psychiatric field. Despite the ubiquity of conditions like major depressive disorder, there is still contention about how depression develops in the brain.

As far as current research goes, there is not enough evidence to suggest that chemical differences explain how or why depression occurs. Genetics may play a role, but the exact gene that causes depression has not been identified. Environmental factors matter, too – and evidence points toward the effects of chronic stressors and childhood stress as a common denominator in cases of depression and other mood disorders.

In total, it’s safe to say that mood disorders like depression occur through a confluence of biological, psychological, and social factors – from isolation and victimizing at school, to individual vulnerabilities and genetic traits, personalities, mental stressors, diet, and more.

There might not be much we can do to prevent a person from developing a mood disorder like bipolar disorder or depression. But that does not mean there isn’t anything you can do to minimize its effects. Protective factors can help address some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and with the help of a trained therapist, you can affect a loved one’s symptoms through their environment. Furthermore, there are multiple effective treatment methods for clients with bipolar disorder.

Seeking Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

The primary treatment plan for bipolar disorder usually consists of a combination of mood stabilizers and individual therapy. Talk therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, can help individuals with mood disorders like bipolar disorder make improvements in the severity of their symptoms and the length of their episodes.

Mood stabilizers also play a critical role. These are medications that help bring down the severity of manic symptoms and significantly reduce the suicide risk for clients with bipolar disorder. Lithium is a common mood stabilizer, but others include valproic acid and multiple different antiepileptic drugs. In some cases, people with bipolar disorder are also prescribed antidepressants, such as SSRIs.

Other Common Mood Disorders

Bipolar disorder and depression are but two of multiple different common mood disorders affecting people globally. Next to anxiety disorders, mood disorders are the second most common type of mental health disorder.

Major depressive disorderseasonal affective disorder, peripartum depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are some of the most common mood disorders, usually characterized by symptoms of severe depression. In many cases, mood disorders co-occur alongside similar conditions, as well as anxiety disorders.

Bipolar Disorder and Depression Treatment in Malibu

Treatment for mood disorders and anxiety disorders can differ on a case-by-case basis. Co-occurring conditions can complicate treatment and may require specialized inpatient or outpatient plans. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or another mood disorder, it’s important to understand your treatment options and how they work. Find someone who can talk you through the recovery process step by step and help prepare your loved ones for their supporting roles.

For more information about treatment options for bipolar disorder and depression, reach out to us. Start your journey to improving and prioritizing your mental health today with Amend Treatment in Malibu.

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