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How is bipolar depression different from a low mood?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Everyone gets down and feels depressed at some point in his/her life. Sometimes we hear people casually say, "I'm depressed," when they have had a bad day at work or a fight with their partner or friends. Typically, these kinds of feelings pass or lessen within a short period of time. In cases such as these, we are not really "depressed," but we experience normal and temporary feelings of sadness, frustration, or stress (a low mood). These normal feelings are different than the more extreme and pervasive feelings associated with bipolar depression.

If depressive symptoms persist for a period of two weeks or more, or they are particularly distressing, then it is probably time to consult your doctor or a mental health professional.

If you are depressed, some or all of the symptoms listed below may apply to you:

Physical effects

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains 

Psychological effects

  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Persistent sadness or variations in mood such as feeling really down in the mornings and better as the day progresses or vice versa
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Self-harm
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability, anger or resentment

Social effects

  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Finding it hard to function at home/work/college/school
  • Lack of interest in activities and events

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.