Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are two common mental health challenges that are often confused with each other. Both disorders can have serious consequences, but the treatment for each disorder is typically different, and understanding the differences can help you make the right choice for your recovery.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

When people speak of depression, they are generally referring to major depressive disorder. However, there are several types of mood disorders that fit the common vernacular of depression, including seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.

Each of these disorders has a similar set of symptoms, though the conditions that lead to a depressed mood or the duration of the depressed mood, make each disorder distinct from the other. In the case of major depressive disorder, the hallmark symptoms of depression include:

  • Depressed mood for most of the day, nearly every day
  • Reduced pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Restlessness or repetitive movements
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

When you experience five or more of the above-listed symptoms, and they start to interfere with your everyday life, you may meet the criteria for a major depressive episode.

If you experience these symptoms for at least two weeks, and they are not better explained by another disorder, it may result in a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. In 2022, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that over 22 million people in the U.S. had a major depressive episode in the last year.

According to current diagnostic criteria, major depression is substantially more common among women — accounting for 13.7 million cases. Men accounted for 8.8 million. Together, roughly 8.8% of the population experienced depression in the last year.

What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

There are several commonalities between depression and bipolar symptoms. In fact, having a major depressive episode is a key indication of bipolar disorder, with the same exact symptoms as listed above.

But there is another set of bipolar symptoms that is key to understanding the disorder: the experience of manic episodes or hypomanic episodes.

Bipolar disorder has two main types: bipolar I and bipolar II. People with bipolar I experience a set of symptoms known as a manic episode. A manic episode is a brief period of highly elevated or irritable mood, with symptoms that last at least a week and typically include:

  • A sense of grandiosity or inflated self-esteem
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Being more talkative than normal
  • Racing thoughts
  • Becoming highly distractible
  • An increase in goal-oriented activity
  • Sudden involvement in activities that may have painful consequences

A manic episode causes substantial impairment at work, home, or school and often requires hospitalization. It is important to note that the episode can not be a result of drug use or another medical condition.

People with bipolar II, in contrast, experience a set of symptoms known as a hypomanic episode. The symptoms of hypomania are nearly identical to those of a manic episode, with some exceptions. They only need to last 4 days, they typically don’t result in severe impairment or hospitalization, and the intensity of the episodes is often reduced compared to manic episodes.

Hypomania is a milder, shorter form of a manic episode. People with bipolar II disorder may also experience longer bouts of depression, which can cause significant impairment in their everyday lives.

Co-Occurrence of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Contrary to what many people believe, major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are mutually exclusive. In fact, the very definition of major depressive disorder excludes diagnosing people if they have ever had an experience of a manic or hypomanic episode, the hallmark criteria of bipolar disorder.

That said, it’s not uncommon for people to receive diagnoses for both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Most people with bipolar disorder seek treatment during a period of depression, and since the symptoms of a major depressive episode are the same for both diagnoses, they may be initially diagnosed with major depressive disorder if they don’t report any previous manic or hypomanic episodes.

Determining whether someone is experiencing depression vs. bipolar disorder takes careful investigation by a mental health expert and accurate reporting from the person seeking treatment.

Delineating between depression vs. bipolar is also critically important for your recovery, as depression treatment and bipolar treatment often follow different paths.

But importantly, even though there are clinical distinctions between depression vs. bipolar disorder, the lived experience of depression is nearly identical. Regardless of which disorder you are living with, there are effective treatment options available to help you overcome your mental health challenges.

How to Manage Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Both depression and bipolar disorder are serious mental health concerns and often require professional intervention in order for people to achieve recovery. Thankfully, there are several evidence-based treatment methods to help people work toward recovery, as well as lifestyle changes and complementary treatments that can help you along the way.

Depression Treatment

Depression treatment has been studied for decades, with a number of different talk therapies, medication options, and integrative medicine techniques that can provide substantial relief for your symptoms.

Traditional depression treatment options may include services such as:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This focuses on helping people recognize and challenge depressive thoughts, which can improve their mood and help them change their behavior
  • Pharmacotherapy: Dozens of different medications are beneficial for treating depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and many others
  • Interpersonal therapy: Interpersonal therapy is a first-line approach for treating depression, which focuses on helping people identify and resolve situations that may be contributing to a depressed state

These treatments can be extremely beneficial for people living with depression. Unfortunately, no one treatment works for everyone, and some people won’t get the results they’re looking for from traditional treatments alone.

Thankfully, several new and innovative treatment methods have been discovered that treat the root cause of depression. These treatments can even work when other treatments have failed, and in fact, they have shown high efficacy in helping people with treatment-resistant depression.

At Plus by APN, we offer several of these new treatment options for people looking for symptom relief and recovery, including:

  • Ketamine-Assisted Therapy (KAT): Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has proven itself to be highly effective at treating depression when paired with targeted therapy, which can help people make substantial progress in just a few therapy sessions
  • Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS): dTMS is a technique that uses targeted electrical impulses to stimulate regions of the brain that are implicated in depressive disorders, providing a direct mental health treatment that can spark remarkable change.
  • Neurofeedback: Neurofeedback uses real-time visualizations of brain activity to help people learn to control and manage their depressive symptoms by training coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques that can last for years

Best of all, these treatments can often be used in tandem with traditional depression treatment approaches, providing you with the highest likelihood of making meaningful progress in your recovery.

Bipolar Treatment

Many of the therapies and techniques used to treat depression are used to treat bipolar disorder as well. In particular, talk therapy approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy can provide substantial relief during depressive episodes and may be helpful during manic episodes as well.

Pharmacotherapy for bipolar treatment is distinct from depression approaches, however. While antidepressants may be a part of your treatment plan, they are often paired with other medications to help manage manic or hypomanic episodes.

Developing a medication treatment plan takes careful planning and medication management with a trained psychiatrist. This could include the use of mood-stabilizing medications or anticonvulsants, depending on your specific symptoms and whether you are experiencing bipolar I or bipolar II disorder.

Ketamine-assisted healing and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation may provide tangible relief and healing from your symptoms as well. While these treatments are relatively new, they have already proven themselves to be highly effective in treating bipolar disorder — and provide a new avenue of treatment for people who haven’t found success with traditional approaches.

Start Treatment at Plus by APN

The team at Plus by APN is dedicated to driving the treatment of mental health conditions forward by staying on the cutting edge of effective treatment approaches and providing our clients with new and exciting possibilities.

Reach out to our team today by calling 424.644.6486 or filling out our confidential online contact form. Our mental health experts can help you understand your different treatment options and choose the treatment that works best for you and your lifestyle. We will be there to support you along every step of your recovery journey.


  • “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Accessed 17 Dec. 2023.
  • SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Section 6 Pe Tables – Results from the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Samhsa, CBHSQ, Accessed 17 Dec. 2023.
  • Wilkowska, Alina, et al. “Ketamine in Bipolar Disorder: A Review.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Nov. 2020,