3 Symptoms of Depressive Bipolar Disorder

Category: Mental Health
9 minute read.

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness that is often highly misunderstood and, to this day, deeply stigmatized. For this reason, many of the millions of Americans who struggle with bipolar symptoms actively avoid seeking the help they need to achieve lasting recovery. Unfortunately, the symptoms of bipolar disorder, including bipolar depression, are complex and sometimes impossible to manage without help and support.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by severe changes or alterations in mood. Studies estimated that up to 2.5 million Americans of all ages and demographics have bipolar disorder, making it a widespread mental illness in the United States. Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed when one reaches their early twenties; however, diagnosis may occur during childhood or teen years, depending on symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but mental health treatment can minimize the impact of symptoms.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three primary bipolar disorder diagnoses. Each diagnosis depends on the presence and severity of specific symptoms. A mental health provider at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center will work with you to evaluate your symptoms and help you better understand your bipolar diagnosis. Understanding your specific diagnosis and symptoms is vital to ensure you receive the most effective treatment possible.

Bipolar I

Someone diagnosed with bipolar I will experience at least one manic episode. Also, they may experience hypomanic or major depressive episodes following episodes of mania. The prevalence of bipolar I disorder is generally equal across the genders..

Bipolar II

People with bipolar II disorder experience one major depressive episode. To be diagnosed with bipolar II, this depressive episode must last at least two weeks. They also have at least one hypomanic episode that lasts a few days. Although bipolar II is believed to be more common among women, bipolar II affects both genders.


Cyclothymia is characterized by episodes of hypomania and depression. The duration and severity of each episode and associated symptoms are much less than in bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Most people with cyclothymia only experience a month or two at a time when their moods are stable.

What is Bipolar Depression?

At one time, bipolar disorder was known as manic depression or manic depressive disorder. This title aptly described the range of symptoms people with bipolar disorder (primarily bipolar II) experience as their moods fluctuate. It is not uncommon to hear people refer to bipolar depression as depressive bipolar disorder. The term is often used to describe the depressed state one experiences following an episode of mania.

It is crucial to mention that the lows experienced during an episode of bipolar depression can be dangerous for some. Some who struggle with bipolar depression turn to self-harm or attempt suicide as a way to reduce their depression symptoms. Understanding the symptoms of bipolar depression and how it differs from “traditional” depression is crucial to ensuring a friend or loved one gets the help they need to manage their symptoms safely.

Bipolar depression is the term used to describe the “lows” or moments of helplessness and hopelessness that frequently occur with specific phases of bipolar disorder. For those who live with bipolar depression, these periods of low or depressed mood can significantly and negatively impact their day-to-day lives and physical and emotional health.

Studies indicate depressive episodes occur with greater frequency than manic ones. Data suggests that those living with bipolar depression will have three times more depressive episodes than manic ones. Also, each depressive episode lasts up to 50% longer than the preceding manic episode. This means that you will experience feelings of deep and overwhelming depression with far greater frequency and intensity than feelings of overwhelming happiness.

3 Symptoms of Depressive bipolar disorder

There are several symptoms of bipolar depression or depressive bipolar disorder; however, some are generally more noticeable than others. If you are concerned that your depression symptoms are linked to bipolar depression or bipolar disorder, it is crucial to reach out for help. Left untreated, bipolar disorder and its associated symptoms can significantly impact many facets of your life, including your physical, emotional, and social health.

One of the first symptoms of depressive bipolar disorder is feeling sad, hopeless, or empty most of the time. Someone with bipolar depression often feels a depressed mood throughout most days of the week. Additionally, because depressive episodes occur with greater frequency than manic ones, it is not uncommon for someone experiencing bipolar depression to feel depressed more days of the month than not. If you or a loved one struggles with a depressed mood with significant frequency, it is a possible sign that it could be linked to bipolar depression.

Another symptom of depressive bipolar disorder is changes in your sleeping patterns. If you experience difficulty sleeping at night yet can stay awake during the day, it may be a possible sign of bipolar depression. Experiencing insomnia or problems falling or staying asleep coupled with hypersomnia (the term for staying awake during the day) might be connected to bipolar depression. However, it is essential to note that changes to sleeping patterns are a shared symptom among many mental and physical health conditions. Therefore, if you experience struggles with sleep, you should reach out to a medical or mental health provider to discuss your symptoms. They can help you better understand if bipolar disorder and associated symptoms lie at the root of your sleeping difficulties. They can also help determine if another medical or mental health condition is a contributing factor.

The third symptom of depressive bipolar disorder is extreme feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Those who struggle with bipolar depression struggle with these emotions each day. If you or a loved one notice excessive or inappropriate levels of worthlessness or guilt that occur on (almost) a daily basis, it is a possible sign of polar depression. However, as noted above, these feelings may also link to other mental health conditions; therefore, a comprehensive assessment at a treatment center like Los Angeles Outpatient Center isn’t a crucial first step on the journey to recovery.

For some people, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, sadness, and hopelessness can significantly affect relationships with family and loved ones. Seeking help to learn how to manage your symptoms and cope with triggers that might lead to depressive episodes. It can help reinforce and solidify personal and social relationships that may struggle for someone with bipolar depression.

Depression vs. Bipolar Depression

Although depression and bipolar depression are both characterized by feelings of low and depressed mood, there are crucial distinctions between the two. Successful and effective treatment largely depends on primary care or mental health providers accurately diagnosing the root causes of one’s depressive state. Failure to do so may lead to a lack of effective treatment and ongoing impacts on your physical and emotional health directly linked to bipolar depression.

Traditional depression or depression not connected to bipolar disorder can lead to several symptoms. With depression, you may experience fatigue, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, and feelings of sadness or despair. Because many of these symptoms are similar to bipolar depression, it can be difficult for medical or mental health providers to diagnose bipolar depression accurately. A key distinction between traditional depression and bipolar depression is that someone with bipolar depression will experience episodes of mania in between depressive episodes. Similar manic episodes do not follow classic depression episodes.

Treatment Options for Depressive bipolar disorder

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, recovery is not out of reach. Effective symptom management is possible with appropriate therapy, support, and guidance at a skilled treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center. There are several therapeutic interventions frequently used in the treatment setting to manage bipolar disorder. The most common is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy used to help people examine and change their thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to encourage patients to consider how their thoughts and actions impact their emotions and behaviors. Developing an understanding of how thoughts and emotions directly relate to behaviors can help someone struggling with bipolar disorder learn and practice safer coping strategies that they can use to manage their symptoms in a healthy way.

In addition to therapeutic interventions, your therapeutic professional might recommend medications. Several medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration to manage symptoms linked to bipolar depression. As with many medications, you should follow your providers prescribing recommendations and remain under the close supervision of your mental health team while using mental health medications.

Additionally, medication works better when used in conjunction with one (or a combination of) various forms of therapy. Medications that are often prescribed for use in treating bipolar depression include:

  • Mood stabilizers such as lithium
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antidepressant-antipsychotics
  • Benzodiazepines may also be used as a short-term antianxiety treatment.

It is important to note that medications do not work well for all individuals. Additionally, what works well for one person may be ineffective for another. It is important to work closely with your mental health treatment team to determine if medications should be part of your treatment program. If you struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder, including certain medications as part of your treatment plan may lead to further and more dangerous complications.

Bipolar depression is a chronic mental illness. While bipolar disorder and its associated symptoms do not have a known cure, with adequate support and guidance, it is possible to manage your symptoms in safe and healthy ways. Our treatment team at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center is here to work with you to develop an individual and comprehensive treatment plan that will address your holistic needs as you begin your treatment journey. To learn more about our Los Angeles-based treatment center and all of the programs we offer, contact a member of our admissions team today.