Depression is a common mood disorder that a number of people seek assistance with. Unfortunately, some of these people end up misdiagnosed as depressed when they actually have bipolar disorder. Depression is a component of bipolar disorder. Though they are both mood disorders, they are entirely separate afflictions that require starkly different treatments. Misdiagnosis derails a person's wellness goals until it is corrected.
Psychiatric and medical professionals that do not have specific knowledge of bipolar disorder can easily overlook it. The reason is simple. A person that is depressed is going to understand how terrible they probably feel. They will visit their doctor, talk about their depression, how they're feeling, and hopefully be treated for it. The problem is that the depressive person does not always associate their mental upswings as a negative experience even if they are destructive. Anything is a welcome respite and positive so long as it is not the consuming void of depression.
Misdiagnosis creates a very drastic problem. The average treatment for bipolar disorder includes an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. The antidepressant is meant to bring the lower end of the person's moods to a higher level. The mood stabilizer creates a ceiling that prevents the bipolar person from escalating. Treatment for depression does not include a mood stabilizer. A bipolar person that is misdiagnosed as depressed and is on antidepressants will just keep escalating until they finally hit their breaking point. The mood stabilizer is not there to provide the necessary ceiling. That is extremely dangerous. It has resulted in suicides, homicides, institutionalization, and self-destruction.
There is good news and bad news! The good news is that the symptoms of the manic periods of bipolar disorder are fairly easy once a person understands what they look like. The bad news is that not a whole lot of people understand what Bipolar Disorder is as opposed to the mental image they have through the media or their own opinions.
The answer is in the question- how does the person feel when they are not depressed? Do they have unlimited energy? How about very scattered thoughts that either do not connect or are entirely erratic? How is the person sleeping? A manic bipolar can get very little to no sleep and still not be physically tired. Manic thinking causes a person to draw conclusions and have thoughts that they normally would not. It is common for a bipolar person to look back on an unwell period and question why they ever would have performed an action that they did. Impulsive decisions and spending are also very common.
The most important question at the center of it all is simply, "Are the periods where I am not depressed just as destructive when I am?" A person that is answering yes to some of these questions should ask to be screened for bipolar disorder.
Depression is easily treatable for a number of people. People that have more psychiatric problems going on will have a much harder time of things. A depressive person struggling to find wellness for years should ask to be screened whether they feel they meet the criteria or not. A dual diagnosis of depression and some form of anxiety disorder is common. Manic symptoms are often mistaken for the signs of an anxiety disorder because they share many similarities.
The final thing to look for is a pattern. Bipolar Disorder typically emerges during puberty. The Bipolar person's manic unwell periods follow a certain pattern. An event will trigger them, they will begin to escalate, their mind will gain speed until it reaches the peak, and then they will plummet down into a deep depression much worse than what they normally deal with. The next few days after that the person will feel pretty good but not to an unhealthy extent. Finally, they will settle back to whatever their baseline mood is. This pattern will have repeated itself several times over the course of the person's life.
Misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder as depression ensures that the bipolar person will not find wellness.