Depression vs. Manic Depression: What’s the Difference?

Depression, also referred to as clinical or unipolar depression, is often difficult for the person who has it to describe their feelings and symptoms. General feelings of sadness and irritability exceeding average sadness and grief are common. There are specific and extended changes in bodily functions such as an inability to sleep or always sleeping, body aches, crying spells, and issues with weight and eating either too much or too little. In its most simplistic explanation, clinical depression is caused by chemical changes in the brain that affect the moods and the way the body functions. Clinical depression lasts for shorter periods of time and the patient typically experiences breaks in the symptoms.

Manic Depression

Manic depression is a more severe form of depression. The name of the illness was officially changed many years ago to bipolar disorder to reduce the chance of confusion. General public interpretation of the word “manic” implies that anyone who is manic is a knife-wielding murderer as often seen in many horror movies. By eliminating the word “manic” from the name of a very real illness, it also reduces the chance of public misinterpretation of the disease.

The average individual with bipolar disorder also suffers from clinical depression. But those with bipolar also experience manic episodes where feelings are much more intense than experienced by those with clinical depression and those without the illness. Patients with bipolar disorder experience extreme feelings of confidence, excitement or joy. They can also experience extreme feelings of irritability or aggression and unworthiness. Some feel overly important or gifted during a manic episode. Many make poor judgements about money, gambling and relationships. Uncontrollable racing speech and thoughts are common as well as the tendency to engage is high risk behaviours.

Bipolar Mania and Hypomania

Bipolar disorder is a complex illness with severity levels ranging from mild to extreme. Every patient with this disorder will regularly experience some types of manic episodes, but those with milder mania symptoms suffer from a lesser form called hypomania. Bipolar disorder patients who suffer from hypomania tend to have less severe symptoms that aren’t as life impairing.


Unlike clinical or unipolar depression which can be treated with antidepressants alone, those with bipolar disorder cannot depend on medication alone as a treatment. The antidepressants on their own can cause rapid mood changes which can make manic episodes worse. Work with a licensed and experienced psychiatrist, lifestyle changes and social support will help someone suffering from bipolar live a normal life including enjoying a successful career and satisfying relationships.

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