How Is Bipolar Depression Different From Unipolar Depression?

Nov 4, 2022Bipolar Disorder

How's Bipolar Depression Different From Unipolar Depression?
Invictus Clinic
November 4, 2022

Depression is a complex and often misunderstood condition. It doesn’t look like just one set of symptoms for everyone who suffers from it. There are a full range of symptom expressions and even different types of depression. Each one has its specific treatments. Two of the more difficult ones to diagnose and differentiate are unipolar depression and bipolar depression.

Many patients with bipolar depression are often misdiagnosed with various other diseases, including:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
  • Substance abuse disorder

However, most people with bipolar depression are misdiagnosed with unipolar depression.

A major similarity between unipolar depression and bipolar depression is that they are both considered genetic medical conditions, do not have a cause, and can present themselves at any time for no apparent reason. Unipolar depression and bipolar depression can become severe conditions if left unattended but are manageable when adequately diagnosed and treated.

For many years, the debate about unipolar depression vs. bipolar depression resulted in them being categorized and studied as the same disease. Only recently has research been done to differentiate the two. While the conditions and the symptoms may be similar, they are subtly different.

This article will discuss unipolar depression and bipolar depression, how they differ, and the importance of getting them diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. 

What Is Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar depression (also known as “bipolar disorder” and previously known as “manic depression”) is a mental disorder characterized by experiencing moods fluctuating from depressive lows to manic highs. Bipolar disorder is caused by genetics, environment, and an altered chemical structure in the brain.

The symptoms present themselves depending on what event or emotional episode is happening in the individuals’ lives, and either depressive or manic tendencies will present themselves. For example, when a person with bipolar depression feels sad, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Frequent crying
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • Significant weight loss
  • Excessive feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in doing almost everything

Alternatively, people diagnosed with bipolar depression also experience manic highs with any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased activity and energy or being abnormally upbeat
  • Thoughts of suicide, attempts, or ideation
  • Racing thoughts and talkativeness
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Being easily distracted
  • Making poor decisions, such as spending or gambling large amounts of money

What Is Unipolar Depression?

Unipolar depression (also known as “major depressive disorder”) is one of the most common mental health disorders. People with unipolar depression will usually experience periods of remission between depressive episodes.

Unipolar depression presents symptoms such as:

  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Concentration and decision-making difficulties
  • Difficulty sleeping or over-sleeping

To be diagnosed with unipolar depression, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. Experience five or more symptoms in two weeks
  2. You are functioning differently than you used to
  3. Episodes of depression, significant and persistent loss of interest, or both

What Are the Key Differences?

Scientists have been studying the differences between unipolar depression and bipolar depression for years. While the symptoms appear the same, there are also some subtle differences. The following symptoms are more prevalent in bipolar depression relative to unipolar depression:

  • Higher rates of psychomotor retardation (the slowing down of your motor activities)
  • Greater difficulty thinking
  • Higher rates of sleeping less and waking up early
  • Worsening early morning mood
  • Frequent psychotic symptoms in bipolar depression relative to unipolar depression (Reference)

While these are more subtle contrasts, the main difference between unipolar depression and bipolar depression is that people with unipolar depression do not experience the manic highs that are common in people suffering from bipolar depression.

Additionally, while people with unipolar depression can experience brief episodes of mania during a major depressive episode, a significant indicator of unipolar depression is experiencing depressive symptoms for at least two weeks and that your life has been significantly changed because of depression.

This means that while the symptoms of both disorders may be similar, the length of time the individual experiences them makes the most significant difference in the diagnosis.

Is One Worse Than the Other?

Bipolar depression is more episodic than unipolar, which can be more stressful for the individual and the people in their lives. During a person’s manic episodes, they might take out a massive loan for a grand idea or suddenly decide to spend an enormous amount of money shopping. These behaviors can affect the families and spouses, who have to deal with the consequences.

The depression phase in the cycle for bipolar depression seems to be identical to unipolar depression. Both unipolar and bipolar depression is challenging to cope with without treatment, meaning neither one is inherently “worse” than the other.

Key Takeaways

While the differences between unipolar depression and bipolar depression are minute, people must get the proper diagnosis.

Not all depressions are the same. The minor details of a depressive episode can make a difference in diagnosis. A proper diagnosis will mean receiving adequate treatment and living a much more balanced and healthy life, whereas a misdiagnosis could have dangerous consequences.

People must do their research and talk to a professional if they think they might have bipolar or unipolar depression so they can be appropriately diagnosed and, subsequently, adequately treated.

Ketamine Therapy for Treatment of Mood Disorders

There are many treatments options available for a diagnosis of unipolar or bipolar depression, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Short-term psychodynamic therapy (STPP)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Antidepressants

However, many people do not find relief or improved stability in their lives with these standard treatments. In more and more cases, people turn to ketamine therapy for relief.

Ketamine therapy for depression has become a popular and effective treatment method for many different mood disorders, including bipolar depression and unipolar depression.

Invictus Clinic offers low-dose ketamine infusions to treat the above-mentioned disorders. Ketamine treatment is also helpful to individuals resistant to prescription drugs and other typical mood disorder treatment methods.

Closing Thoughts

If you are suffering or think you might be suffering from unipolar or bipolar depression, you may find relief with low-dose ketamine infusion therapy from Invictus Clinic. Low energy, persistent sadness, and a lack of enjoyment do not have to define your life. Contact us to learn more about Invictus Clinic and how we can help.


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