Boy who is experiencing bipolar depression

What is Bipolar Depression Like?

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You’ve heard of depression. You’ve heard of bipolar disorder. But lately, you’ve become aware of something called bipolar depression. Is this a legitimate mental health condition? If so, what is it like to live with bipolar depression? And, perhaps most important of all, can it be treated?

What is Bipolar Depression?

If you look through the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard reference book for clinicians in the United States, you won’t find an entry for bipolar depression. Now, this doesn’t mean that bipolar depression isn’t an actual mental health concern. But it does mean that, in the eyes of the American Psychiatric Association (which publishes the DSM-5), bipolar disorder is not a distinct, standalone mental illness. Confused? Don’t be. In the next few paragraphs, this should all begin to make much more sense.

Is Bipolar Depression Different From Regular Depression?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by dramatic swings in mood, attitude, and energy level. People who have bipolar disorder may experience manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes:
  • Manic episodes are periods of elevated confidence, increased energy, and a heightened sense of motivation.
  • Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes, but they don’t last as long.
  • Depressive episodes are times of diminished energy, low self-esteem, and pervasive sadness.
There are actually three types of bipolar disorder (bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder). These types are differentiated by which types of symptoms a person has. If a person has a type of bipolar disorder that involves depressive symptoms, clinicians sometimes use the term “bipolar depression” to differentiate these symptoms from so-called regular depression (which is sometimes referred to as unipolar depression). So, to quickly summarize:
  • If you have a depressive disorder, your symptoms may be referred to as unipolar depression.
  • If you have a bipolar disorder that includes depressive symptoms, your symptoms may be referred to as bipolar depression.

What is it Like Living With Bipolar Depression?

What is it like having bipolar depression?Two of the three types of bipolar disorder always involve depressive symptoms:
  • Bipolar II disorder involves depressive episodes that last for at least two consecutive weeks and hypomanic episodes that last for at least four days at a time.
  • Cyclothymic disorder includes both hypomanic and depressive symptoms, with neither type of symptoms lasting long enough at any one time to meet the criteria for a full episode. 
What is it like to live with bipolar depression? On days when you’re experiencing depressive symptoms, it can feel like this:
  • You struggle with either hypersomnia (sleeping way too much) or insomnia (trouble falling asleep and staying asleep).
  • No matter how much or how little you slept, you feel weak and exhausted.
  • You either eat voraciously, or you have little to no appetite.
  • You feel worthless and helpless.
  • You find it difficult or impossible to experience joy. 
  • You have trouble focusing and concentrating.
  • You have recurring thoughts of death and dying. This may include suicidal ideation.
Important note: If you have been having thoughts of suicide, or you fear that someone you know may be at risk for taking their own life, call 988 or visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website. This service, which is staffed 24/7, can connect you with an appropriate resource in your area.

Can The Depression Part of Bipolar Disorder be Treated?

All forms of bipolar disorder are treatable. This includes manic, hypomanic, and depressive symptoms. Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition. This means that your symptoms won’t simply disappear. But with medication and ongoing effort, you can manage your symptoms and regain control of your thoughts and actions. Depending on what type of bipolar disorder you have and how severe your symptoms are, you may benefit from receiving treatment at one (or more) of the following levels:
  • Inpatient program
  • Partial hospitalization program
  • Intensive outpatient program
After you have completed treatment, you may find it beneficial to participate in a peer support group, or to schedule traditional outpatient sessions with a counselor or therapist. 

Types of Treatments That Can Help With Bipolar Depression 

As we noted in the previous section, bipolar depression is a treatable condition. Professional care (which may include both medication and therapy) can be essential. There are also several steps you can take on your own to minimize your distress and increase your quality of life:
  • Follow a nutritious diet and incorporate exercise into your daily schedule.
  • Be aware of triggers (circumstances that could prompt the onset of symptoms) and warning signs (indications that you are about to enter a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode).
  • Stay in regular contact with friends and family members. Isolation can intensify the effect of bipolar depression. Frequent conversations with loved ones can be vital sources of support.
  • Work on your conflict resolution and stress management skills.
  • Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering substances. Depending on your unique circumstances, this advice may also extend to caffeine and tobacco.

Medical Treatments

Inpatient and outpatient mental health care for bipolar depression may include a variety of elements, such as: There is no single “perfect” type of treatment for bipolar depression. What’s most important is finding the type and level of care that aligns with your needs and preferences.

Contact Montare Behavioral Health in Los Angeles, California, About Bipolar Depression

Montare Behavioral Health offers a full continuum of personalized care for adults who have been living with bipolar depression and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Our team can identify the full scope of your needs, then develop the customized plan that will put you on the path toward improved health. Every step of the way, you will have the focused support of a team of compassionate experts. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, visit our Contact Us page or call us today.