Bipolar Vs. Unipolar Depression


Sometimes depression is just a case of the blues--it lasts for a day or two and then lifts. But both unipolar and bipolar depression are more than just feeling down now and then. They bring with them the risk of not being able to function in daily life and the possibility of suicide. There are differences in unipolar and bipolar depression, and if you or a loved one is depressed, you'll want to get a correct diagnosis.

Unipolar Depression

  • Unipolar depression, sometimes called major depression, is diagnosed when you display five or more symptoms of depression for a minimum of two consecutive weeks, according to the National Institute of Health. The symptoms of major depression can include: irritability and agitation, trouble with sleep or oversleeping, change in appetite, lack of energy, feeling hopeless or helpless, feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty, withdrawal from normal and pleasurable activities, thoughts of suicide, trouble concentrating. When your major depressive episode subsides, you feel and act normal.

Bipolar Depression

  • Bipolar depression can look like unipolar depression, with the same symptoms that last for at least two weeks. The differences in unipolar and bipolar depression is mania. Mania is a state of high agitation or pleasurable excitement that does not occur with unipolar depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, manic periods that come with bipolar disorder are interspersed with deep depressive states. This creates a back and forth effect from manic highs to depressed lows.


  • The diagnosis of major depression or bipolar disorder rests on whether or not a manic state is ever present. A mental health professional will talk to you about your symptoms, they're severity, duration and when they started. You will also be asked about your family history and medical history, and medications that you've been prescribed. With depression, health professionals will also rule out any underlying physical illnesses or conditions that could be causing or aggravating feelings of depression.

Treatment for Unipolar Depression

  • Treatment for unipolar depression will involve taking a prescription antidepressant and may also include taking a mood stabilizing or antipsychotic drug. Psychotherapy and support groups may also be recommended to help you deal with your depressed moods. Often mental health practitioners will encourage lifestyle changes such as avoidance of alcohol and drugs, getting plenty of exercise and dietary changes to assist with keeping depressive episodes at bay or reducing their effect and duration.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

  • If your diagnosis is bipolar disorder, you may be treated with a combination of a mood stabilizing drug and an antidepressant, although caution is advised in the use of antidepressants for bipolar patients. Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder are also treated with antipsychotic medications. Your mental health professional may also suggest psychotherapy to help you deal productively with your mood swings. Lifestyle changes similar to those recommended for people with unipolar depression will also be recommended for management of bipolar disorder.

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