Duluth TMS | TMS Therapy for Depression and TMS Therapy For Anxious Depression

Difference between Depression and Bipolar Disorder

March 22, 2023

Depression and bipolar disorder are two common mental health conditions that can have a significant impact on a person's life. While both can cause changes in mood and behavior, they are distinct conditions that have different symptoms, causes, and treatments. The most common misdiagnosis for bipolar patients is unipolar depression. 

An incorrect diagnosis of unipolar depression carries the risk of inappropriate treatment with antidepressants, which can result in manic episodes and trigger rapid cycling.  

In this blog, we will explore the key differences between depression and bipolar disorder.


Depression is a mental health condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. It is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The symptoms of depression can be mild, moderate, or severe, and they can last for weeks, months, or even years. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Depression can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, life events, and other medical conditions. Treatment for depression typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings that can range from high (mania or hypomania) to low (depression). People with bipolar disorder experience periods of intense energy and euphoria, followed by periods of deep sadness and hopelessness. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe and debilitating, and they can affect a person's ability to function in daily life. Some of the common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

  • Mania or hypomania: periods of high energy, euphoria, and creativity
  • Depression: periods of low energy, sadness, and hopelessness
  • Rapid cycling: frequent mood swings between mania and depression
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior
  • Racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hallucinations or delusions (in severe cases)

Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Treatment for bipolar disorder typically involves medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Key Differences

While depression and bipolar disorder share some symptoms, there are several key differences between the two conditions. Here are some of the main differences:

  • Mood swings: While both depression and bipolar disorder involve changes in mood, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that can range from high to low. In contrast, depression is typically characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.
  • Mania: Mania is a key symptom of bipolar disorder that is not present in depression. Mania is a period of intense energy, euphoria, and creativity that can lead to impulsive or reckless behavior.
  • Duration: Episodes of depression can last for weeks, months, or even years. In contrast, episodes of mania or hypomania in bipolar disorder typically last for days or weeks.
  • Treatment: While the treatments for depression and bipolar disorder can be similar, the specific medications and therapies used may differ. For example, people with bipolar disorder may need medications that specifically target mania, while people with depression may benefit from different types of therapy.


Bipolar Disorder, how to get an accurate diagnosis:


Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by episodes of mood swings, including periods of depression and periods of mania or hypomania. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe and can interfere with daily life. However, getting a proper diagnosis can be a complex process that requires the help of a mental health professional. 

Understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder

  1. The first step in getting a bipolar diagnosis is to understand the symptoms of the disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression and episodes of mania or hypomania. 

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of mania or hypomania include:

  • Feeling elated, euphoric, or irritable
  • Increased energy or activity levels
  • Racing thoughts or speech
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Grandiose beliefs or delusions
  • Impulsive behavior, such as reckless spending or risky sexual behavior


  1. Talk to your primary care physician

If you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, the first person to talk to is your primary care physician. Your primary care physician can perform a physical exam and order blood tests to rule out any medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. They may also refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for further evaluation.

  1. Meet with a mental health professional

A mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms and determine whether you have bipolar disorder. They will typically conduct a diagnostic interview, which involves asking you questions about your symptoms, medical history, and family history of mental illness. They may also ask you to complete questionnaires or assessments to further evaluate your symptoms.

It's important to be honest with your mental health professional and provide as much information as possible. This will help them make an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

  1. Keep a mood journal

Keeping a mood journal can be helpful in tracking your symptoms and providing your mental health professional with additional information. A mood journal is a record of your daily mood, as well as any significant events or changes in your life. You can also track other factors that may affect your mood, such as sleep, exercise, and medication changes.

By tracking your mood over time, you and your mental health professional can identify patterns and triggers for your symptoms, which can be helpful in developing an effective treatment plan.

  1. Get a second opinion

If you are not satisfied with your diagnosis or treatment plan, it's important to get a second opinion. You can ask your mental health professional for a referral to another psychiatrist or psychologist, or you can seek out a mental health professional on your own. A second opinion can provide you with a fresh perspective and help you make an informed decision about your treatment options.

  1. Advocate for yourself

Advocating for yourself is an important part of getting a bipolar diagnosis. If you feel like your mental health concerns are not being taken seriously, or if you feel like you are not receiving appropriate treatment, it's important to speak up. You can ask for a referral to a specialist, request additional testing or evaluations, or ask for a different treatment approach. Remember, you are the expert on your own experience, and it's important to take an active role in your own mental health care.

Getting a bipolar diagnosis can be a complex process that requires the help of a mental health professional. It's important to understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder, talk to your primary care physician, and meet with a mental health professional.

In conclusion, depression and bipolar disorder are two distinct mental health conditions with different symptoms, causes, and treatments. While both can be challenging to manage, with the right treatment and support, people with these conditions can lead fulfilling and productive lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or bipolar disorder, it's important to seek professional help.


We provide life-changing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for medication-resistant depression. Contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment with one of our Treatment Coordination Specialists!