What Is Bipolar Depression, And How Can It Affect You?

Updated January 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most people have heard of depression, but not everyone understands what it is. While most people believe being depressed means you're sad, they don't necessarily understand the complexities of depression. Not everyone has heard of bipolar depression or bipolar disorder, which can be even more challenging to understand. It's not just about being happy or sad. Depression and bipolar depression are much more than just two emotions.

It's Tough To Manage Bipolar Depression Alone

What Is Depression?

Everyone feels sad or down sometimes, but depression is more serious. Depression is a more extreme form of sadness where you feel hopeless and helpless and maybe even worthless to the degree that it keeps you from functioning normally.

Symptoms of Depression

  • Feeling upset or unhappy during most of the day

  • Feeling a lack of energy or tiredness almost every day

  • Feeling guilty or worthless nearly every day

  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating

  • Difficulty sleeping or, conversely, difficulty staying awake

  • Little to no interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Feeling of anxiety or emptiness

  • Thoughts of suicide

  • Feeling of restlessness or irritability

  • Aches and pains that do not go away with treatment

  • Significant gain or loss of weight

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988, and someone is available to assist 24/7.

It's important to note that these feelings or thoughts must occur organically, without the influence of medications, drugs, or even medical conditions. While drugs, medications, and medical conditions can cause depression, doctors will treat this differently than depression that occurs on its own.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood, thinking, and behavior shifts. The individual may feel severe depression (characterized by the symptoms mentioned above) and mania characterized by intensely impulsive or hyperactive behaviors and extreme highs and lows.

Bipolar disorder is characterized primarily by mood swings, but they are much more intense than mood swings would typically be. For someone with bipolar disorder, the difference between happy and sad is very extreme. Cycles could last for days or months, with no warning of when a change will occur.

It's Tough To Manage Bipolar Depression Alone

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder are more difficult to discuss because there are different stages to this disorder. An individual who is depressed generally has a single set of symptoms that may be interspersed with typical behaviors and thoughts. Someone with bipolar disorder, however, may have completely different thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms from one day to the next. That's why it's essential to look at possible symptoms from each stage in a bipolar cycle so that you can get the proper diagnosis and treatment can begin as quickly as possible. Someone with bipolar disorder may cycle between mania, hypomania, and depression, as shown by the following symptoms:

Symptoms of Mania

  • Extreme energy, creativity, and euphoria

  • Lack of sleep but feelings of energy

  • Racing thoughts and ideas

  • Extremely distracted and lack of concentration

  • Feelings of invincibility or greatness

  • Extreme reckless behavior

  • Extreme irritability, aggressiveness, and anger

  • Extremely low impulse control

  • Hearing voices or experiencing delusions

  • Talking rapidly where others can't keep up

Symptoms of Hypomania

  • Good mood

  • Feeling of advanced productivity

  • Feeling of increased energy and euphoria

  • Average connection with reality

  • Average day-to-day life and activity

  • Less impulse control

  • Bad decision-making skills

Symptoms of Depression

  • Feeling of hopelessness and emptiness

  • Increase irritability

  • Loss of energy and tiredness

  • Changes in appetite or weight

  • Difficulty sleeping while still feeling tired

  • Thoughts of suicide

  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things

  • Feeling sluggish physically or mentally

Symptoms of Mixed Episodes

  • Moderate to extreme irritation and irritability

  • Moderate to extreme anxiety

  • Moderate to extreme insomnia

  • Moderate to extreme distractibility

  • High level of energy

  • Low level of mood

What Is Happening?

When you experience an extreme high, everything feels like it’s going great. It feels like nothing can stand in your way, and you can do anything. Unfortunately, this can lead to bad decisions or trouble with others who try to change your behavior or your mind about things.

On the other hand, when you experience a low, it can feel extremely low, and you may feel like you can't get out of it. You may feel like you are empty, alone, and lost. These feelings feel just as extreme as the highs and can come on quickly, even after feelings of such greatness.

With a mixed episode comes the highest risk of suicide because it creates feelings of extreme energy and, at the same time, extreme sadness. Mania and depression can come to the forefront at the same time.

Types of Bipolar Depression

There are three primary types of bipolar depression, characterized by different combinations of mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. Understanding which one you face will impact the kind of treatment you experience.

Bipolar I Disorder

With bipolar I, the combination is typically mania and mixed episodes. An individual with this form of depression may have at least one manic or mixed episode with at least one episode of depression. This is the most common form of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar II Disorder

With bipolar II, the combination is generally between hypomania and depression. An individual with this type of bipolar disorder will typically not have full-blown manic episodes but hypomanic episodes interspersed with severe depression, creating a moderate form of the disorder.

Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia is one of the mildest forms of the disorder, though it is still extremely important to get treated. This form of bipolar disorder is usually characterized by mild depression and hypomania, without the extremes of mania or depression, though it still involves mood swings.

Treatment for Forms of Bipolar Depression

All forms of bipolar depression require professional treatment. You cannot just get over or talk yourself out of it. Trying to go through it alone may lead to experiencing those feelings, symptoms, and emotions longer than necessary. It is also important to note that you can get better if you find the proper treatment.

Medication

Medication can help to mitigate the severity of depressive and manic episodes, especially while you are working on making the other changes necessary in your life to overcome your bipolar depression. You may need different medications as your treatment progresses and you learn how to cope, but many people with bipolar disorder may require lifetime medication.

Counseling

Therapy sessions are an essential aspect of your treatment for bipolar depression. Talking with someone and working through your feelings and thoughts can help you learn healthy thought patterns and more. Work with a professional psychiatrist who has experience with patients with bipolar disorder. Because it is such a complex disorder and episodes can happen with varying frequency and intensity, your therapist must know what to expect and how best to help you through your treatment.

Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes different events in your life can be a part of your episodes. By making some changes to anything from your job to your relationships and even your diet, you can change your experiences and start to alleviate some of the symptoms you experience. You may be able to mitigate some of the factors by making some of these changes and improving the quality of your life. However, it's important to note that your lifestyle does not cause your bipolar disorder, and these changes alone are often insufficient treatment.

What Your Diagnosis Means

Bipolar disorder is a serious disorder, and it's something that you need to seek treatment for. Do not attempt to fight through it alone. Bipolar disorder is intense, and overcoming it without assistance is challenging. However, with the aid of therapists, your support system, and medication, you can live a healthy and happy life.

If you’re ready to start treatment, there are many benefits to choosing online therapy. When you have bipolar disorder, your mood swings can be unpredictable. During those times when you feel down or feel like you don’t have the energy to get through the day, online therapy makes it easy to continue treatment. You attend sessions from the comfort of your home, and you can reach out to your therapist any time, 24/7, and they will get back to you as soon as they can. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective, too. One study concluded that not only was online cognitive behavioral therapy effective at treating both bipolar disorder and depression, but it was also more cost-effective for both patients and therapists. If you want to learn more, reach out to a BetterHelp therapist to get started.

Takeaway

Bipolar depression or bipolar disorder can be challenging to overcome on your own. Therapy can give you the support you need to change your life.

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