Unipolar and Bipolar Depression Differences

The majority of time when patients or mental health professionals talk about the diagnosis and treatment of depression, they are referring to unipolar depression. While bipolar depression may be incorrectly diagnosed as unipolar depression, the treatment including medications prescribed are completely different.

Bipolar Disorder Difficult to Diagnose

The correct diagnosis of unipolar or bipolar depression can be missed by inexperienced professionals. When a person with bipolar disorder is in the low phase of their cycle they may be incorrectly diagnosed as having unipolar depression as both types of depression look so similar at that time. ULifeline reports that someone with bipolar depression may experience depressive episodes for years at a time without ever having a period of mania or hypomania, thus never receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment.

The Highs and Lows of Depression 

Those with bipolar depression have periods of time that they experience low moods or depression; however, they also have episodes of high moods or mania where they feel an increased energy, euphoria, impulsive behaviors and insomnia. People who have unipolar depression do not go through the “highs” found with bipolar depression. While both forms of depression can continue for years at a time they both respond to treatment when the proper set of medications are prescribed.

Symptoms of Depression

While any of us may feel sad or depressed for a time, continuing depression and development of associated behaviors point toward the need to seek out professional help. The symptoms of unipolar or bipolar depression that are most common are:

  • Extreme sadness or depressed mood
  • Apathy
  • Low energy levels
  • Feelings of loneliness or withdrawal from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities
  • Sleeping problems (sleeping too much or inability to sleep)
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings

Symptoms of Bipolar Mania

Common symptoms of bipolar mania which may occur after an episode of bipolar depression include:

  • Behaviors exhibited of being happy or euphoric, confident, energetic and productive
  • Racing thoughts and/or fast speech
  • Decreased need for sleep along with not feeling tired
  • Irritability, agitation, and aggression
  • Impulsive behaviors (i.e., sexual escapades, spending sprees, heavy gambling, abuse of illegal drugs or over-the-counter medications)
  • Displaying high-risk behaviors with poor judgment
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating on a task or activity

Unipolar and Bipolar Depression Medication

Having the correct diagnosis in place is critical. While antidepressants are used to treat depression a person with bipolar depression who takes an antidepressant may find the medication triggering a dangerous manic episode. Bipolar depression requires a different set of pharmaceuticals, most commonly a mood stabilizer and anti-manic medications.

Unipolar and Bipolar Atlanta Psychiatrist

A skilled psychiatrist will design your treatment regime to fit you and your needs after a comprehensive evaluation for a correct diagnosis. Call Dr. Hege for a confidential appointment and help find the correct diagnosis.

About Darvin Hege

Dr. Darvin Hege, MD, PC, is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He is an Emory Hospital residency trained psychiatrist who has been practicing psychiatry for more than 25 years. He maintains over 50 hours of AMA certified education each year to stay informed of advances in psychiatry.

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