What Is The Difference Between Major Depression And Bipolar Disorder?

Question: What is the difference between major depression and bipolar disorder?

Answer: The distinction between major depression and bipolar disorder is a critical one for psychiatrists because it can lead to very distinct forms of treatment. Major depression is characterized primarily by sad mood and a decrease in pleasure or enjoyment of previously pleasurable or enjoyable activities, as well as a whole range of other symptoms including sleep problems, decreased appetite, low energy, suicidal thinking.

What's distinct about bipolar disorder is that the individual here also experiences hypomanic or manic symptoms. Hypomanic symptoms may involve elevated mood, grandiose thinking, rapid speech and decreased sleep need. And in hypomania these symptoms last for at least three days. If somebody cycles between hypomania and depression, we diagnosis them as having bipolar II disorder.

Bipolar I disorder is the more severe form of bipolar disorder, in which all of the symptoms of hypomania are present only in a more severe form and for at least a week. And in addition, the individual may act in ways that are inconsistent with baseline personality, such as spending a lot of money, traveling without making appropriate plans, or acting on sexual impulses that he or she would ordinarily not act upon.

In addition, people with bipolar disorder and in particular bipolar I disorder, may develop psychotic symptoms such as paranoid delusions, auditory or visual hallucinations and other breakdowns in normal thinking processes.

Next: What Is The Relationship Between Depression And Anxiety?

David Brendel, M.D., Ph.D.

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