It can be hard to tell the difference between depression or bipolar disorder. Both are serious mental health conditions that have an effect on your quality of life.

Unfortunately, many people spend years suffering from the symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder without receiving the help that they need.

depression or bipolar disorder

However, you may have noticed that something is wrong lately. Is there a difference in how you live your life now? Does the way you function or feel about yourself seem to have shifted significantly, but you can’t tell if what you are experiencing is depression, bipolar disorder, or something else entirely?

Here’s why you need a therapist for a clear diagnosis, and how therapy can help.

The Similarities Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder

First, let’s take a look at the similarities between these disorders. Both conditions involve depressive symptoms. These include:

  • waning interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • sleep issues
  • deep sadness
  • dietary and body weight (lost or gained) changes
  • low energy, fatigue
  • low self-worth
  • the belief that you are undeserving
  • difficulty staying focused/ completing tasks

One other factor to consider is the role of substance use and abuse in both depression and bipolar disorder. In order to cope, people will often turn to alcohol or drugs as a solution. However, in the end, substance use only exacerbates the problem and complicates an already complicated diagnosis.

The Differences Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Now let’s take a look at the differences in these diagnoses for a clearer picture of your situation and how to approach treatment and support.

Depression: It’s important to note that depression is considered to be a mood disorder. In this case, your mood is consistently low for an extended period of time. You don’t get better nor does your mood change situationally. Instead, you generally feel prone to dark thoughts and moods all the time. Withdrawal and despair can become more prolific and harmful, without treatment, over time.

Bipolar Disorder: This disorder is marked by mood swings. You do feel depressed for a certain period of time. But this period is followed by mania. This doesn’t mean you are happy. Rather, it’s as if you have boundless energy. Both ends of the mood swing can be quite dramatic, chaotic, and damaging for you and your loved ones if left unchecked.

In addition, there are subtle differences within bipolar disorder too. In fact, the condition can be divided into subsets such as bipolar I and bipolar II. With bipolar I, you experience both highly manic and severely depressive episodes. But with bipolar II there are depressive and what are called “hypomanic” episodes. Energy is increased, but people may still consider your behavior to be “normal.” Ultimately, you swing back to a depressive state there as well.

Obviously, the need for proper diagnosis is crucial to help you rein in your thoughts and behavior, determine treatment goals, and provide you some relief.

How to Tell if it’s Depression or Bipolar Disorder

It can be very difficult, from your vantage point, to identify whether you have depression or bipolar disorder. As shown above there are distinct subtleties that you might miss. Also, when you are experiencing these conditions it can be very confusing or misleading.

What you need is someone who understands these differences and the spectrum of bipolar disorders. Seeking out a therapist with the expertise and training to make an appropriate diagnosis can spare you prolonged suffering and improper treatment. A therapist will be able to parse out specific issues that can give you the diagnosis and direction you need.

It’s important to remember too, that a diagnosis is not a label implying something is wrong with you. Rather, it’s the first step in the process of helping you function and feel better. Moreover, you may be able to better connect and repair your relationship with loved ones when your diagnosis and care plan is clear to them as well.

Moving Forward

As you can see it isn’t easy determining a diagnosis on your own. Whether you have depression or bipolar disorder, the way forward is the same. You need and deserve compassionate guidance.

Neither condition is your fault. Don’t let shame or fear keep you from reaching out for help and clarity. Participating in therapy can help you cope with symptoms and deal with mental health issues productively. Find out today how depression counseling can help and contact me soon for a consultation.