Distinguishing between bipolar disorder and unipolar depression

Distinguishing between bipolar disorder and unipolar depression

Bipolar disorder is a common mood disorder in which a person undergoes dramatic shifts in his or her mood and ability to think logically. Unfortunately, it is one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. As a result, a lot of people with bipolar disorder do not get a proper diagnosis, which can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Basically, there are two types of mood disorders, such as unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. Many a times, people misconstrue bipolar disorder as unipolar depression due to overlapping symptoms. Although both the conditions share similar symptoms of sadness, pessimism, hopelessness, sleep problems and anxiety, they are entirely different from each other.

Symptoms of unipolar depression and bipolar disorder

Typically, unipolar depression comprises the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged feeling of sadness
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Having no interest in activities, hobbies etc.
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawing into a shell
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Suffering from sleeping problems or sleeping all the time

However, unlike unipolar depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of mania or hypomania, apart from the general symptoms of depression and sadness. In psychological terms, mania or hypomania are periods of extreme brain activity, during which a patient feels extremely energetic and displays impulsive behaviors like unprotected sex or shopping spree. Since the phases of mania are rare and far in between, the risk of misdiagnosis is quite high in bipolar disorder patients.

Primarily characterized by extreme euphoria and racing thoughts, some of the other symptoms of mania associated with bipolar disorder are as follows:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Extreme energy
  • Increased agitation
  • Promiscuous and risk-taking behavior
  • Increased risk of substance abuse

Importance of exercising caution before diagnosing depression

It is extremely important to exercise caution before diagnosing depression. Misdiagnosis could delay treatment, which gives rise to far-reaching consequences. Before giving an early prognosis for depression, it is essential that the following underlying conditions be identified:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder or psychosis
  • Onset of depression before the age of 25
  • Recurring depression
  • Certain inherent personality traits that predispose a person to bipolar
  • Prior history of post-partum depression
  • Existence of substance use disorder

Psychomotor retardation along with increased appetite and excessive sleepiness (hypersomnia)

Use of antidepressants, stimulants and mood-elevating drugs is the standard treatment protocol for people diagnosed with depression. Unfortunately, a person with dormant bipolar disorder may encounter symptoms of “mania” or “hypomania” under the influence of medications.

Such mood swings are extremely dangerous for an individual’s psychological well-being. Youngsters with a prior history of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders are more prone to mood disorders, than adults. Studies have shown that patients who experience episodes of mania while being treated for depression using medications are likely to exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder. A misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder can set the treatment back by several years. It has been seen that antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can aggravate manic symptoms.

Road to recovery

It is important to explore available resources to complement the treatment of mental disorders and decrease the suffering of the affected individual. Many people with mental disorders like bipolarity or depression have recovered to a point where they are living functional and rewarding social lives with their family and friends. When it comes to treatment outcomes, the amount of time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis and subsequent treatment is crucial for people with mental disorders. Sooner the treatment, better the outlook for improvement and recovery.

The California Mental Health Helpline helps mental health patients lead a better life. If you would like to have more information on mental health facilities in California, you may chat online with our experts or call our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923. Our representatives can also guide you to the best mental health rehabilitation centers in your vicinity.