Dr. Lester Sandman earned his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and now practices psychiatry in Bellevue and Kirkland, Washington. In his work with patients, Dr. Lester Sandman focuses on mood and anxiety disorders.
Major depression and bipolar disorder are both types of mood disorders. These common conditions annually affect 16 million and 3 million American adults, respectively. They also tend to be misunderstood and confused with each other. The similarities and differences between major depression and bipolar disorder include the following:
Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycles of manic and depressed states, with moods typically swinging back and forth between the two extremes. Manic states often involve intense feelings of excitement, irritability, or self-importance. Sometimes people become increasingly reckless during manic states. However these states can be more subtle with primarily irritability or anxiety along with insomnia & feeling “wired”.
During depressive states, many people experience a lack of pleasure or interest in daily life. Symptoms also include fatigue, pervasive sadness, and issues with sleep. There are also mixed states that combine elements of both mania and depression.
Major depression, unlike bipolar disorder, is a unipolar condition. People living with depression do not generally experience the symptoms of manic states, only depressive ones. These symptoms are sometimes accompanied by persistent physical symptoms that do not disappear with treatment.
The more severe conditions are thought to be “biologically driven” with a strong genetic component. But they can be easily confused with psychological mood states which are experienced as more in- proportion to events that are driving them (such as grief).
People of all ages experience both of these common mood disorders. Both are also treatable. Many patients with bipolar disorder or depression experience positive outcomes with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. If the mood problem is primarily psychologically driven, then talk therapy is the main treatment. If the mood problem is biologically driven, talk therapy can help manage symptoms but medications will be necessary to fully control the condition.