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What’s the difference between depression and manic depression?


What’s the difference between depression and manic depression?

June 26, 2022

Sometimes people are confused about the differences between clinical depression and manic depression. And it’s no wonder — they both have the word “depression” in their names. That’s one of the reasons manic depression’s clinical name changed to “bipolar disorder” many years ago, to more clearly distinguish it from regular depression.

The difference is really quite simple, though. Manic depression — or bipolar disorder — includes clinical depression as a part of its diagnosis. You can’t have bipolar disorder without also having had an episode of clinical depression. That’s why the two disorders shared similar names for many years, because they both include the component of clinical depression.

Such a depressive episode is characterized by the common signs and symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad and unhappy for an uninterrupted period of at least 2 weeks
  • Crying for no reason
  • Feeling worthless
  • Having very little energy
  • Losing interest in pleasurable activities

Because both depression and bipolar disorder share this commonality, somewhere between 10 to 25 percent of people with bipolar disorder are first mistakenly diagnosed with only depression. It’s only when the professional learns more about the person and their history do they later discover episodes of either mania or hypomania.

Mania Distinguishes Manic Depression from Depression

Mania is the distinguishing symptom of bipolar disorder and what differentiates it from clinical depression. A person with bipolar disorder has experienced one or more manic episodes (or a lesser form of mania known as hypomania). What’s a manic episode?

  • Feeling overly happy, excited or confident
  • Feeling extremely irritable, aggressive and “wired” Having uncontrollable racing thoughts or speech
  • Thinking of yourself as overly important, gifted or special
  • Making poor judgments, such as with money, relationships or gambling
  • Engaging in risky behavior or taking more risks than you ordinarily would

A person who is experiencing the lesser form of mania — hypomania — may only experience a few of these symptoms, or their symptoms are far less severe and life-impairing. A person with clinical depression experiences none of these symptoms. Depression isn’t the only disorder that is confused with bipolar disorder. Especially in children and teens, sometimes other disorders — such as attention deficit disorder (ADHD) — may be misdiagnosed, when the teen may instead be suffering from a form of bipolar disorder. That’s because children and teens with bipolar disorder may display hyperactive behavior — a common symptom of ADHD. Teens with bipolar disorder are especially more likely to engage in antisocial or risky behaviors, such as those involving sex, alcohol, or drugs.

People who are diagnosed with the more severe form of bipolar disorder are said to have Type I Bipolar Disorder. Those diagnosed with the less severe form — those who have hypomanic instead of full blown manic episodes — are said to have Type II. Learn more about the different types of bipolar disorder here.

Bipolar disorder, like all mental disorders, is treatable through a combination of psychotherapy and medications. You can learn more about the treatment options available for bipolar disorder here.

John Grohol Psy.D. Bio

Dr. Grohol researches and writes about mental health, psychology and technology issues.

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