November 16


Depression vs Bipolar Disorder

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

November 16, 2021

Over 16 million Americans suffer from depression, while around 6 million have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In total, that’s over 10% of the population. So, if you work in an office with 100 people, the chances are that 10 of your coworkers (including you) suffer from these afflictions.

Unfortunately, these two conditions present similar symptoms leading to confusion and even misdiagnoses. In this article, we’ll explain the similarities and differences between depression and bipolar disorder, as well as how you treat both.

What is Depression?

woman sitting on floor struggling with depression
Image via Flickr by Chloe Capture

Major depression leaves you feeling hopeless, worthless, and restless. We’ve all had tough days. Maybe you got laid off from work or perhaps lost a beloved pet. These circumstances can cause you to feel sad, but that doesn’t mean you suffer from depression. A significant episode of depression entails more than just feeling low. It’s an all-encompassing sadness that you simply can’t get rid of, and usually for no apparent reason.

People suffering from depression often can’t sleep well. Depressed people suffer severe appetite swings, either binge eating or not eating at all. Their ability to concentrate gets affected, leading to poor judgment. Suicidal thoughts and actions can occur, and while some days are better than others, the depression persists without proper treatment.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Doctors sometimes refer to bipolar disorder as manic depression, which adds to the confusion between bipolar disorder and depression. The term bipolar refers to the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Thus, someone with bipolar disorder experiences extreme mood swings. With bipolar disorder, you have periods of deep depression, but you also experience periods of extreme highs. 

The highs, or mania, can last from a few days to several months or longer. Conversely, the lows, or depression, can occur for several hours or months before reverting to a high period. In some cases, you can experience both the highs and lows at once. For example, you could feel sad and worthless yet remain highly agitated and nervous. Unfortunately, there are very few periods spent in the middle of the emotional spectrum for those people with bipolar disorder.

The depressive lows present the danger of suicidal thoughts and actions, but even the highs can be dangerous. The highs of bipolar disorder might feel pleasant, but they lead to risky behavior that can put you in real danger.

Signs of Mania

During a manic or high episode, you might have extreme and prolonged bursts of energy. Manic periods often are accompanied by very little sleep because of the wired feeling. As a result, you might talk faster and have racing thoughts you can’t keep up with.  During manic periods, people with bipolar disorder often describe themselves as excellent multitaskers. They also take risks they usually wouldn’t, perhaps taking a financial risk such as betting their paycheck on a whim or attempting a physical activity beyond their usual limitations.

Spotting this behavior can be difficult, mainly when it’s happening to you. Family members and friends can better notice these swings as out of character. To a person with bipolar disorder, these highs feel good. They feel happy to have the energy and believe it helps with productivity.

Diagnosing Depression vs Bipolar Disorder

As with any mental health condition, it’s imperative to get the correct diagnosis, yet it isn’t always easy. For example, a psychiatrist who only sees you when you experience lows might diagnose depression because they don’t know your highs. You might not even recognize the highs as mania but believe them to be normal. At NeuroHealth in Arlington Heights, we use advanced neuropsychological assessments to identify your condition.

In addition, many people with bipolar disorders also have other conditions that impede diagnosis and treatment. For example, you might suffer from substance abuse. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, which doctors describe as a sort of self-medication. Substance abuse can mask symptoms and make it harder to see the truth. Other examples might be anxiety and eating disorders. 

If you think you suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, experts recommend seeing a mental health professional and working with them to get the correct diagnosis. Depression doesn’t have to last, and with treatment, you can achieve a normal life. Unfortunately, depression and bipolar disorders are lifelong struggles. Therefore, you’ll need ongoing treatment, including counseling and medication, to manage your symptoms.

Treating Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Your doctor must find the proper medication and dosage, as they would with any prescribed drugs. For bipolar disorder, doctors recommend mood-stabilizing and antipsychotic drugs like Lithium or Divalproex to manage your symptoms. Your mental health professional might also prescribe antidepressants in addition to these drugs. However, for a person who has bipolar disorder, taking an antidepressant by itself sometimes triggers manic episodes. Thus, it’s essential to know if you suffer from bipolar disorder or depression before beginning treatment.

Doctors have many antidepressant drugs they can prescribe to those people suffering from depression. What the doctors prescribe and the dosage depends on the severity of your symptoms, the potency of the medication, and your ability to tolerate them. Over time, your condition might improve or degrade. If this happens, your doctor will need to adjust your medication to keep your symptoms under control.

Many experts recommend keeping a daily journal. You can record your mood, sleep habits, positive and negative life experiences, and more in your journal. Sharing these notes with your doctors will help them arrive at the correct diagnosis and treatment.

For both conditions, you should see a mental health counselor regularly. A counselor has the training necessary to help you understand what’s happening and provide you with ways to cope with symptoms as they occur.

Contact the Experts at NeuroHealth Today!

If you live in or near the Arlington Heights area of Chicago – including Palatine, Des Plaines, Schaumburg, Mt Prospect, and more – and believe you or someone you care for suffers from bipolar disorder or depression, NeuroHealth can help. Our family practice focuses on identifying your condition through our neuropsychological testing program. Once diagnosed, we create a treatment plan that will help you. We provide solutions for children, adolescents, and adults struggling with mental health issues. To schedule your neuropsychological assessment, give us a call at (847) 584-1824 or contact us online today!

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.