Living with a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder can be exceptionally difficult. For many people in the U.K., it can be hard to differentiate between the two disorders. Learning the difference between depression and bipolar can help you determine the best treatment options for your needs and start you on the path to recovery.
Understanding the Difference Between Depression vs. Bipolar Disorder
Depression and bipolar disorder are closely related, but have a few key differences that separate one from the other. Depression is typically characterised by chronic low mood, lack of motivation, and low energy levels.
People living with bipolar disorder typically have a similar experience, but their depressive episodes are punctuated by periods of extremely elevated moods and energy, known as mania or hypomania.
Individuals with bipolar disorder tend to seek treatment during a depressive episode rather than during manic episodes. This often leads to an inaccurate diagnosis of depression when they are actually living with bipolar disorder.
The difference between depression vs. bipolar disorder is essential for seeking evidence-based mental health treatment. Even though many of the symptoms of these disorders are similar, the treatment options are often vastly different — and seeking out the wrong treatment could lead to ineffective results.
Symptoms of Depression
There are a number of different types of depression, but there is a common thread of symptoms throughout multiple types of depressive disorders. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:
- Lack of motivation
- Low mood most of the time, most days of the week
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep difficulties
- Unexpected weight changes
- Recurring thoughts of death
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
A depression diagnosis can lead to severe impairment in your everyday life. It can interfere with work, school, home life, and any number of personal responsibilities or obligations.
Thankfully, depression is highly amenable to treatment — with a number of traditional and innovative treatment options that can help you achieve recovery.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
People living with bipolar disorder will experience all of the symptoms of depression listed above. In fact, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder requires that people experience a depressive episode, but it also requires experiencing at least one episode of mania or hypomania.
Mania is a period of abnormally elevated mood and energy levels. The symptoms of a manic episode include:
- A feeling of excitement and happiness
- A sudden burst of energy
- Grandiose self-perception
- Feeling like you are full of great ideas
- Delusions, which are false beliefs that appear real
- Illogical thinking
- Becoming highly distractible
- Making out-of-character decisions
- Sleeping very little
Manic episodes can last for several days, and in some cases, require hospitalisation. However, since the majority of manic symptoms are very positive, people rarely seek out treatment themselves during these periods.
Hypomania, on the other hand, is a milder form of a manic episode. A person experiencing a hypomanic episode may experience a smaller mood and energy boost compared to normal but typically won’t require hospitalisation.
The nature of bipolar disorder is an alternation between depressive states, which can last months, and manic or hypomanic states, which typically last several days or weeks.
Bipolar symptoms can differ significantly in severity and frequency as well, with some people experiencing higher highs and lower lows than others, while other people may cycle between the two alternate mood states quicker or more slowly than others.
Can Depression and Bipolar Disorder Co-Occur?
Though there is significant overlap between depression and bipolar symptoms, the two disorders cannot truly co-occur. A person living with bipolar disorder will experience depressive episodes, but having even a single experience of mania means that bipolar disorder is the more specific and accurate diagnosis.
Similarly, people with depression won’t be diagnosed with bipolar disorder unless they have a manic or hypomanic episode. Once a manic or hypomanic episode occurs, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder essentially overrides any previous diagnosis of depression.
How to Manage Bipolar and Depression
Regardless of which disorder you may have, these two mental health challenges can cause severe disruption in your everyday life. Thankfully, there are a number of different ways you can start to manage either bipolar or depression and start living a happier and healthier life.
The best way to start managing your symptoms is to seek out evidence-based treatment from a specialised mental health program. Both disorders have been studied for decades by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals, providing a number of different treatment options to help you manage your symptoms.
Traditional Depression and Bipolar Treatment Options
Traditional approaches to treating depression and bipolar disorder fall along two main categories:
- Talk therapy
Each of these approaches is highly effective either on their own or in combination with one another. Typically, the best results are seen when treatments are combined, as they provide a more comprehensive approach to helping you manage your mental health symptoms.
A number of different talk therapy approaches have been developed to treat depression and bipolar disorder alike. Some of the most common methods for bipolar and depression treatment include:
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based talk therapy approach for treating the symptoms of depression. This includes helping people living with bipolar disorder manage their depressive episodes by using targeted strategies designed to elevate mood, prevent the worsening of symptoms, and provide healthy behavioural strategies to incorporate into their everyday life.
CBT is founded on a simple principle: your thoughts, mood, and behaviour all influence one another. This provides three different targets for intervention by helping people change the way they think, the way they behave, and the way they feel.
Family therapy focuses on helping family units build stronger communication and support strategies, which can ameliorate many of the symptoms people face when living with serious mental health challenges.
Family therapy is an evidence-based approach for helping people with both depression and bipolar disorders and can build lasting support structures that extend far beyond your time in treatment.
Psychoeducation teaches people about their mental health diagnosis. Learning more about the way that these disorders influence the brain and behaviour can help people anticipate, prepare for, and improve their symptoms. While psychoeducation alone typically isn’t enough to produce recovery, it plays an important role in a comprehensive treatment plan.
Medication management for depression and bipolar disorder takes a different approach to providing relief – using targeted psychiatric medications that can change your brain’s chemistry. There are a number of antidepressant and mood-stabilising medications that can treat both disorders and can provide tangible relief for many symptoms.
However, finding the right medication, the right dose, and the right time can often be difficult. Medication management connects you with a psychiatrist who can monitor your progress, help you find the right medicine, and help to manage any uncomfortable side effects.
Novel Treatment Techniques
While therapy and medication can provide substantial benefits for most people, traditional bipolar and depression treatments don’t always produce the results that people hope for.
Thankfully, there are a number of innovative treatment techniques discovered in the last several years that can provide hope for people who haven’t found success with therapy or medication approaches.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) is an exciting approach that brings the findings of neuroscience into practical application. Using specialised technology, dTMS starts with taking a detailed brain scan to identify regions of the brain that are often underactive in people living with depression or bipolar disorder.
Following the scan, dTMS has the client place a cap outfitted with electromagnetics on top of their head. The procedure is completely non-invasive, but the magnets can send impulses deep into the brain at these targeted locations, increasing the neuronal activity of underactive regions.
This burst of electricity helps kickstart these neuronal connections, providing tangible relief in just a few sessions. Better still, after several dTMS treatments, these new connections are durable and lasting, providing long-term relief for a number of mental health challenges.
Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic that has been used in medicine for decades as an anaesthetic. However, in recent years, ketamine has been found to be highly effective for treating a number of mental health diagnoses, particularly when it is paired with one-on-one work with a therapist.
At subanaesthetic doses, ketamine acts as a therapy incubator. The dissociative qualities of ketamine allow people to disconnect from the ingrained feelings of depression or bipolar disorder, allowing clients to make breakthroughs in therapy that could take months or years in traditional talk therapy.
Ketamine-assisted healing follows a very simple process. First, you’ll meet with our team to discuss your mental health challenges, your treatment goals, and any concerns you have about the ketamine-assisted healing process.
Next, you’ll return to our specialised clinic to undergo the ketamine-assisted healing session. During this session, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist who will sit with you throughout the entire duration of the drug’s effects — typically about two hours.
Your therapist will talk with you about your goals, help guide you through the experience, and be there to support you through the entire process. All of this is done under the direct care of a medical team, who is there throughout the experience as well.
Most people experience significant reductions in their mental health symptoms after just a single ketamine-assisted healing session, and the improvements in mental health are extremely durable. But many people will benefit from repeated sessions.
After treatment, our team will continue to follow up with you to monitor your progress, provide support where needed, and help you achieve your treatment goals.
Lifestyle psychiatry is a unique approach to healing offered at APN London. Science has shown that a number of protective behavioural strategies can show profound benefits for people with depression or bipolar disorder, but initiating these lifestyle changes isn’t always easy.
Lifestyle psychiatry integrates traditional mental health interventions into a holistic model, pairing you with sleep specialists, nutritionists, personal trainers, and general practitioners.
This multidisciplinary team can help you optimise each aspect of your life to promote total mind-body wellness and help you develop the skills and tools needed for a lifetime of holistic recovery.
Start Treatment at APN London
At APN London, our team is dedicated to offering our clients the best in both traditional and innovative treatment options for their mental health challenges. Best of all, many of these treatments can be combined for even greater effect, ensuring you can use every possible avenue to achieve your treatment goals.
When you’re ready to start treatment, reach out to the team at APN London by calling 0203 984 7699 or by filling out our confidential online contact form. Our team can help guide you towards the right treatment options for your specific needs and will be there to support you along every step of your recovery journey.
- “Symptoms – Bipolar Disorder.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.
- “Depression.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/depression/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2024.