If you’re standing in a group of five friends, family members, or complete strangers, statistics determine that one of you will experience mental illness each year. Even worse, if you’re in a crowd of 20 adults in the United States, these same figures prove that they’ll experience a severe mental illness each year. These conditions can range from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or unipolar depression, which can be debilitating. Some mental health conditions can interrupt a person’s quality of life, and in the worst scenarios, lead to homelessness. 

In 2015, the most extensive survey ever conducted found that on a given night in the United States, 564,708 people were sleeping on the street. Unfortunately, it’s likely those numbers have accelerated rapidly since this was conducted, but the same study found that a staggering one in four homeless Americans – roughly 140,000 people – were seriously mentally ill at any given point in time

Another 45 percent of the homeless, equating to 250,000 individuals, had some form of mental illness. Mental illness is a significant contributor to homelessness. A study by the National Coalition on Homelessness asked 25 cities for the three largest causes of homelessness in their communities for single adults, and mental illness was the third largest cause. The lack of treatment for the most seriously mentally ill because of their delusions and bizarre behaviors makes living at home untenable. The result is homelessness. The most common mental health conditions that lead to homelessness are depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders (SUDs). 

Bipolar disorder is much different than it’s portrayed on television. You’ve likely had a friend or family member tell you that you’re “acting bipolar” because your mood shifted from happy to angry in a flash. However, the condition is much more complex than simply changing your attitude. Bipolar disorder is severe enough for a person to lose their livelihood and be temporarily defeated by the disease without adequate care. It can also cause them to start drinking alcohol or using drugs to cope with the pain by self-medicating, which can also lead to homelessness. However, once on the street, homelessness can exacerbate the mental illness and make it more severe. 

Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million American adults in a given year, equating to 2.6 percent of the population over the age of 18. The median age of onset for the condition is around 25, but researchers have found it in children and adults in their 40s or 50s. It does not discriminate and affects an equal number of men and women from all races, ages, ethnic groups, and social classes. Nearly two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have one close relative with the condition or with unipolar major depression, proving the disease has a heritable component. 

Unipolar depression is another serious and common mood disorder. The lifetime prevalence of the condition is 12 percent, and the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks unipolar major depression as the 11th greatest cause of disability and mortality in the world. Many have wondered what unipolar depression is and how it differs from bipolar disorder. Below, we’ll delve into the details to provide more clarity about unipolar depression and how it differs from bipolar depression. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly referred to as manic depression, is a mental health condition that produces extreme mood swings. These include incredibly emotional highs, known as mania or hypomania, and incredible lows, characterized as depression. When a person becomes depressed, they typically feel sad and hopeless or lose interest in activities that once brought them joy. If your mood shifts to hypomania or mania, the individual will feel euphoric or full of energy like nothing can touch them, similar to how cocaine affects the mind. These mood swings can be dangerous and affect sleep, energy levels, behavior, judgment, and the ability to think clearly. 

These mood swings can occur on rare occasions or happen multiple times a year. Some people will experience some emotional symptoms in between episodes, while others won’t encounter any. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that can be managed by following a treatment plan. It’s commonly treated with medications and psychotherapy. 

There are several types of bipolar disorder. These include depression, mania, or hypomania. These symptoms can lead to unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, leading to distress and challenges in life. The most common forms of bipolar disorder include the following:

Bipolar II disorder is not a milder version of bipolar I disorder, rather a separate diagnosis. The manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be dangerous and severe, while those with bipolar II can be depressed for a more prolonged period, leading to significant impairment. For some, you might wonder – what is bipolar depression?

What is Bipolar Depression?

Depression is a part of the routine when it comes to the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. Bipolar depression keeps you from feeling like yourself and causes significant challenges when trying to do things you either want or need to do. The depression attached to bipolar disorder is severe enough to keep you from getting out of bed in the morning. 

For those dealing with severe symptoms, it can keep them bedbound. It’s easy from the outside looking in to say, “just get out of bed, you’ll feel better!” Others might say, “you’re exaggerating – be positive, you’ll get over it.” However, it’s not that simple. Bipolar depression is severe, and those battling it are at an elevated risk of self-harm or suicide. 

Fortunately, the right treatment can make all of the difference, but for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis, it’s crucial to know and understand your symptoms. By doing so, you can report them to the physician. 

Symptoms of Bipolar Depression

The most common symptoms of bipolar depression include the following:

  • Eating too little or not having control over how much you eat.
  • Facing unusual challenges when it comes to making decisions.
  • Feeling unable to get out of bed due to low energy.
  • Sleeping far too much or not at all.
  • An inability to enjoy anything – even activities that once brought you joy.
  • An inability to focus or remember things.
  • Continually thinking about harming yourself, suicide, or death.

You could have all of these symptoms or some of them. As was mentioned above, someone with bipolar disorder could also be filled with energy and be extremely sad. The sign that can indicate you’re battling depression is if you feel down for at least two weeks. 

What is Unipolar Depression?

As was mentioned above, unipolar depression is a common and severe mood disorder. Those affected by this form of depression will experience constant feelings of sadness or lack total interest in interactions with others around them, which is understandable. When you’re feeling at your worst, it’s hard to force yourself into a situation that requires interaction. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly seven percent of adults over the age of 18 have experienced an episode of unipolar depression in their lives. It’s quite a hurdle to overcome, but it’s vital to be diagnosed correctly in order to begin treatment. For that reason, distinguishing the difference between bipolar depression and unipolar depression can, quite literally, be the difference between life and death. 

Bipolar depression refers to frequent mood changes, which transition from mania to depression, while the focal point of unipolar depression is the negative feelings and emotions an individual experiences. The primary distinction between the two is that depression does not alter between the two mood states. However, the two most common crossovers between the two conditions are a loss of interest in activities and hobbies that once brought them joy, as well as an inability to perform routine tasks. 

Unipolar depression is sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD). Major depression, sometimes referred to by medical professionals as clinical depression, is a serious medical condition that impacts critical components of a person’s life. It affects behavior, mood, and physical functions, such as sleep or appetite, and prevents the individual from leading healthy and fulfilling lives. 

It’s common for a person with unipolar depression to experience suicidal thoughts and feel as though life isn’t worth living. Unipolar depression and other types of depression aren’t similar states of being sad. As was mentioned above, it’s not something you can simply snap out of and requires long-term professional care and treatment. Fortunately, most of those with unipolar depression describe an overall improvement in their lives with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. 

Symptoms of Unipolar Depression

The vast majority of those with unipolar depression will experience negative emotions and sadness at one point or another in their lives. However, this form of depression is much different than other types of depression because a depressed mood can last the entire day, persisting for prolonged periods of two weeks or more. 

The only way to determine if someone is dealing with this particular mood disorder is for a mental health professional to assess their behavior patterns, symptoms, and feelings. They’ll ask specific questions about the individual’s mental well-being or present them with a questionnaire that can indicate if you have unipolar depression. To be diagnosed, you must meet specific criteria listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The manual serves as a guide for doctors and mental health workers to diagnose these conditions. 

In order to meet the criteria assigned by DSM for unipolar depression, you must experience five or more of the following symptoms once per day for longer than two weeks. These include:

  • Sadness or irritability that lasts for most of the day.
  • Changes in your appetite, such as sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Loss of interest in activities you once found joy taking part in.
  • Trouble falling asleep or wanting to sleep more than before.
  • Constant feelings of restlessness.
  • Increased tiredness and a lack of energy.
  • Inability to concentrate, make decisions, or think
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, and linking to things that wouldn’t have this kind of effect.
  • Suicidal ideation or self-harming thoughts.

Causes and Risk Factors of Unipolar Depression

There is no specific cause related to unipolar depression. There are various risk factors contributing to the development of the condition and put a person at risk of developing it. The risk factors are split up into three primary categories.

Biological Factors

When it comes to brain chemistry, a combination of genetic predisposition and stress has the ability to alter the chemical balance in our brain and diminish how we maintain stable moods. Changes in hormonal balances can also increase the chances of a person developing unipolar depression. 

One theory about unipolar depression is that it’s caused by a lack of balance in our neurotransmitters, which are naturally occurring chemicals in the brain and spinal cord. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters responsible for symptoms of the condition. 

Psychological Factors

External events affect everyone differently, and our thoughts will dictate how we experience our lives. It can also affect happiness, how we feel about our lives, and whether or not a mood disorder like unipolar depression can develop. The way in which the world is viewed will shape our experiences, and the most impactful phase is during our childhood and teenage years. Parenting will also play a role in shaping the psychological health of a child. 

For example, an abusive upbringing filled with negativity will change how you feel about the world – for the worst. Later in life, when faced with adversity, a person with this background will view themselves and these situations worse than others around them, contributing to emotional suffering and predisposing them to depression. 

Environmental Factors

As we progress through our lives, it’s common to become involved in stressful and unfortunate events that trigger mental health conditions like unipolar depression. Some of these triggers include the following:

  • Prolonged periods of conflict with family, friends, loved ones, or co-workers.
  • Losing a loved one, moving, losing a job, or financial struggles.
  • Social isolation or a lack of socialization.
  • Ongoing stress in your place of work, whether it be a relationship conflict or pressure to perform.
  • Health challenges, especially when someone experiences chronic health issues or pain.

The Difference Between Bipolar and Unipolar Depression

There are some distinct differences between bipolar and unipolar depression. As such, it’s still challenging to make an accurate diagnosis as a medical professional. Bipolar disorder consists of mood swings, bipolar depression, and bipolar mania. Unipolar depression shares similar symptoms. However, there are three primary differences, including the following:

  1. Bipolar depression is considered more episodic than unipolar depression.
  2. Bipolar depression sometimes tips into mania.
  3. Because of the mania risk, bipolar depression treatment varies from unipolar depression treatment. 

Unipolar and bipolar depression appear similar when compared on a depression scale. The way a person talks, thinks, and acts are the same. The primary difference when treating these conditions is due to bipolar depression and its close ties with mania. Unipolar depression can safely utilize serotonin-based treatment, including SSRI antidepressants, lightbox therapy, and amino acid supplements. Bipolar depression treatment requires caution when using serotonin-boosting treatment because of its ability to cause mania.

If you’re being treated for depression, you must be screened for bipolar disorder. Due to the potential risk of mania stemming from serotonin-related depression treatment, healthcare professionals must ask about a history of bipolar in the person seeking depression treatment and get a full family history for the presence of bipolar. By prescribing an SSRI to a person with a family history of bipolar, it can cause bipolar to “switch on” even if there have been no signs of mania in the past. 

If you’re depressed and can’t figure out the reason, there’s a chance your mood is linked to brain chemistry. Try to look through your family tree for signs of depression and get help for it like any other medical condition. It’s not a switch you can flip on or off, and for the reasons mentioned, you must get an accurate diagnosis to avoid medication that can create mania. Make sure to dig through your family history to determine if bipolar disorder runs in the family tree and get tested for signs of mania in your life. Unipolar depression and bipolar disorder are more similar than you think, which is why giving accurate information to your doctor will be crucial. 

Unipolar Depression Treatment

Once you’ve been correctly diagnosed by your treating physician, treatment is crucial. Since depression can be life-threatening, getting the proper help right away is necessary. Your doctor will recommend medications in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat unipolar depression. However, keep in mind that each person is different, and treatment will vary from one person to the next. With that said, medication in conjunction with psychotherapy may be helpful for some but not others. Your doctor or psychiatrist has the ability to prescribe the appropriate medication to ease, or in some cases, cure your symptoms of depression. 

With depression, especially when it’s severe or you feel like a danger to yourself, a stay in the hospital might be necessary. Or, taking part in an outpatient treatment program until the severity of your symptoms reduces might also be key in getting your symptoms under control. Either way, your doctor or psychiatrist will make a recommendation that’s suited for your specific needs. 


Begin with the use of antidepressant medications. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common class of drugs prescribed for this condition. Those with unipolar depression typically suffer from a deficiency of serotonin. An estimated 40 to 60 percent of people who begin an SSRI regimen will see a noticeable improvement in their symptoms within six to eight weeks. 


Psychotherapy sometimes referred to as “talk therapy,” involves meeting with a psychiatrist regularly to discuss your mental health and discuss issues related to the condition. For those with chemical imbalances in their brain, it’s not enough to treat their depression. However, the combination of psychotherapy and medication plays an essential role when recovering from this form of mental illness. Psychotherapy has also been shown to help with the following:

  • Increasing your self-esteem and overall worthiness.
  • Improving your communication skills.
  • Regaining control over your life.
  • Identifying new easy to solve problems and learning how to cope with them.
  • Adjusting to stressful events and getting through crises.
  • Replacing bad habits with positive and healthy ones.
  • Increasing the sense of satisfaction in your life by paying attention to the positive aspects and not the negative.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to therapy and medication, implementing some changes in your life can also be beneficial to your health. These include:

  • Changing your sleeping patterns.
  • Eating more of the right food.
  • Avoiding drugs or alcohol.
  • Exercising regularly.
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