About Bipolar Depression

What Is Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar depression refers to the "lows," or depressive phase, of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Depression Is Different from Other Forms of Depression

There are many forms of depression. Unlike unipolar depression, bipolar depression is part of a larger condition known as bipolar disorder. Knowing what form you have is important because there are different treatment options for different types of depression. Be sure to ask your doctor about how these options work differently to treat unipolar versus bipolar depression.

Understanding the Larger Condition, Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder—the larger condition that includes bipolar depression—is a lifelong, or chronic, illness. It’s a condition that affects the brain in a way that can cause extreme mood swings that vary in length. People with bipolar disorder can go from mania (the “highs”)—feeling euphoric or revved up and irritable—to depression (the “lows”)—feeling down or hopeless. These highs and lows are called “episodes.”

Take a Look at Differences between Bipolar Disorder and Unipolar Depression





Click the descriptions below to see the disorders displayed.

Bipolar Disorder

Both low and high episodes outside of normal range

Bipolar Depression

Bipolar depression refers to the "lows," or depressive phase, of bipolar disorder.

UNIPOLAR Depression

Recurrent episodes of lows.

What is bipolar disorder?

Watch this video for more detailed information about bipolar disorder and bipolar depression.

Here are some important facts about bipolar disorder:

  • Affects approximately 5.7 million American adults (or about 2.6 percent of people aged 18 and older in the United States) in a given year and as many as 60 million people worldwide
  • More than half of all patients begin seeing symptoms between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can begin at any age
  • There is no cure, but for many people the symptoms can be controlled with treatment
  • Bipolar disorder is sometimes referred to as manic depression
  • Some people may experience mood swings that are less extreme than a full manic episode, known as hypomania
  • People with bipolar disorder often also have other mental health disorders

See Serotonin and Dopamine in Action

Researchers have identified two chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which may play a role in bipolar disorder. These messengers are dopamine and serotonin and each has a different function.


Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain called a neurotransmitter. It helps control movement in the body and is also linked to thinking and emotions.


Serotonin is a chemical produced by nerve cells in the brain. This chemical, or neurotransmitter, acts as a messenger in the brain. It helps control moods.




Could Your Depression Be Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar depression is the depressive phase of a larger condition called "bipolar disorder." Figuring out whether you have bipolar depression can be a journey. The important thing to remember is you’re not alone. Others have traveled the path to a diagnosis and it started with talking to their doctor.

There is no one test or quiz to diagnose bipolar disorder. However, answering this questionnaire and bringing this guide with you to your next doctor appointment may help you be more prepared.

How Long Did It Take Before Your Bipolar Depression Was Diagnosed?

What Were the Next Steps for You After You Were Diagnosed with Bipolar Depression?

How Did You Share Your Diagnosis with Friends and Family?

Effective Treatment Starts with Your Doctor

If you’re already diagnosed and still struggling with symptoms of bipolar depression, you can take steps to change that by talking to your doctor about how you’re feeling and what you can do.

What you can do to help, starting now:

  • If you are struggling with bipolar depression, help get the conversation started using our Doctor Discussion Guide.
  • Track your moods day by day with our Daily Mood Monitor and go over the results with your doctor.

> If you have serious thoughts about suicide, call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).