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What Is Bipolar Depression?

When discussing or possibly addressing depression, understanding the distinctions is crucial. Everyone gets sad or feels down at times. This is normal and inevitable. Depression, on the other hand, is a diagnosable issue that requires treatment. So, that’s one huge distinction. Something else to keep in mind is that depression is often part of a separate condition called Bipolar Disorder (BP) — formerly known as Manic-Depressive Disorder.

Generally speaking, someone is diagnosed with BP if they experience a manic episode that lasts at least one week. In most cases, that same person will also struggle with depressive episodes. In this post, we’ll focus on Bipolar Depression.

About Those Manic Episodes

For the sake of context and contrast, I’ll start by sharing some of the many symptoms of a BP manic episode:

  • Thoughts are racing
  • Talking rapidly and non-stop
  • Displaying extreme excitement and happiness
  • Restlessness
  • Behaving impulsively in ways that can be self-harming, e.g. risky sex, quitting your job, and substance abuse
  • Feeling so energized that you do not sleep
  • Formulating unattainable plans with unrealistic goals
  • Seeing yourself as important or famous
  • In extreme instances, a BP manic episode can produce hallucinations and delusions

Contrast That With Signs of a BP Depressive Episode

In order to be considered a BP depressive episode, the person in question must experience a depressed mood virtually every day over (at least) a two-week time period. In particular, during these two weeks (or more), the person must display a marked loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. For example, someone may love riding their bicycle but suddenly now never leaves the house.

Other symptoms of a BP Depressive episode may include:

  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, or shame
  • Lacking energy and motivation
  • Irritability with occasional angry outbursts
  • Sleep disturbances ranging from too much to insomnia
  • Appetite swings from more to less and back — with subsequent weight gain or loss
  • Unable to concentrate or make decisions
  • Sorrow that causes unpredictable and uncontrollable crying spells
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of death, dying, or suicide

woman sitting in a car looking out the windshieldSigns like this, in conjunction with manic episodes, make it advisable to seek advice from a medical professional. One of the first things to find out is if there are factors that would rule out BP as a likely diagnosis. For example, substance abuse, a legal medication, or side effects of an existing medical condition could each be playing a role.

Can You Have a Mixed Episode?

Unfortunately, yes, you can. A mixed episode would see a person juggling depressive and manic symptoms simultaneously. Imagine, for example, feeling super high energy while experiencing a spiral of negative thoughts.

Other Things to Know About Bipolar Disorder

  • As many as 3 percent of Americans (close to 6 million) have BP
  • It impacts people of all ages but the average onset age is 25
  • Men and women are diagnosed at roughly equal rates
  • Women with BP tend to endure more depressive episodes than men
  • BP is diagnosed via physical exam, medical history, and blood tests aiming to rule out other conditions

The exact cause of BP is not yet known. Genetic factors are highly suspected to play a big role. In addition, stressful events have been seen to trigger either manic or depressive episodes.

Getting Treatment for Bipolar Depression

There is currently no cure for BP but treatment can ease symptoms dramatically. In some cases, medication is prescribed (mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants). But talk therapy combined with self-management steps has a solid track record of effective relief. If you or someone you know may be struggling with Bipolar Disorder, I invite you to reach out soon. Let’s get you set up with a free and confidential consultation for depression treatment.

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