Clinical depression is characterized by loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and/or persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, or hopelessness. It is differentiated from day-to-day mood fluctuation – everyone feels sad from time to time – when the emotional distress lasts for weeks to months on end, and disrupts a person’s daily functioning. If left untreated, depression can lead to deepening experiences of isolation and hopelessness, and have serious implications. While depression can be very painful, most people with depressive disorders respond to clinical intervention.
True bipolar disorder differs from mood swings and mood fluctuations, and is characterized by discrete cycles of depression– involving hopelessness and/or inability to take pleasure in previously enjoyed activities– and mania, involving disinhibition, grandiosity, reduced need for sleep, and/or and prolonged elated or irritable mood. There are several types of bipolar disorder, and a differential diagnosis based on the type, duration, and severity of mood episodes is necessary. Sometimes, a person can experience both depressive and manic symptoms at the same time.
Both depressive and manic episodes can be dangerous, and research indicates that untreated mood episodes can lead to an increased risk of future episodes. In most cases, bipolar disorder must be managed with a combination of behavior therapy and medication management.