Depression or Bipolar Disorder?

mood disorders can be treated


Depression and bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depression, are both part of a group of mental disorders known as mood disorders. Mood disorders encompass a wide variety of mood issues, all of which share groups of mood-related symptoms. Psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to properly diagnose mood and other disorders using a set of criterion found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). These psychology professionals are trained and experienced in proper diagnosis of mental disorder using the DSM. However, nobody is perfect, and many mood disorders can mask themselves as other disorders of this category. For example, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that mimics a major depressive episode. However, SAD happens most frequently during the winter and is believed to be due to lack of sunlight. Just as seasonal affective disorder can be mistaken for major depression (or vice-versa), bipolar disorder and depression can be similarly mistaken. If you are having symptoms of depression and may be questioning your diagnosis, or simply want to learn more about these disorders, read on.


What Are The Symptoms Of Ordinary Depression


A diagnosis of ordinary depression, which professionals refer to as major depression, requires five or more of the following symptoms for over two weeks:


  • depressed mood
  • diminished interest previously pleasurable activities
  • significant weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain
  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • feelings of restlessness or
  • feelings of being slowed down
  • fatigue or loss of energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • inability to concentrate and make decisions
  • frequent thoughts of death or thoughts of suicide


What Are The Symptoms of DSM


Bipolar disorder includes a depressed mood or depressive episode, as described above. But what else does bipolar disorder include? Bipolar disorder is characterized by serious periods of up and down moods. These “up” moods are known as episodes of mania. The DSM defines a manic episode as a period of abnormal, persistently elevated or expansive mood that lasts at least one week. During this period of mania, three or more of the following symptoms are present and persistent:


  • inflated self esteem
  • decreased need for sleep
  • talkativeness
  • racing thoughts and flight of ideas
  • distractibility
  • increase in activity and agitation
  • excessive involvement of pleasurable activities that may have serious negative consequences


How Do We Treat

Mania can be a very pleasurable state, and one that a person with bipolar disorder may be reticent to admit to their psychiatrist for fear of losing these “up” periods. If only symptoms of depressive episodes are reported to a mental health professional, an incorrect diagnosis can be given. Unfortunately, if typical antidepressants are prescribed to those with bipolar disorder it can make their disorder worse, not better.


Other Complications

Another complication in diagnosis of bipolar disorder is irritability. Some people who suffer from bipolar disorder experience “mixed mania” where both symptoms of depression and mania are present. A period of irritability in an episode of mixed mania can easily be mistaken for a simple bad day. However, these irritable periods can be severe and affect relationships when the person cannot control their aggression. In addition to the days of serious depression where a sufferer may not be able to make it out of bed or get to work, mood fluctuations and erratic behavior can interfere with social interactions in the workplace.


Drug and Alcohol

Drug and alcohol abuse can also mask the symptoms of manic depression. It is estimated that about 50% of people with bipolar disorder use and abuse drugs and alcohol to self-treat and soothe their symptoms. Alcohol is often used to slow down during a manic episode, or make a person feel better when they are depressed.