About Bipolar Depression

What is Bipolar Depression?

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

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.”

What is bipolar disorder?

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

Here are some important facts about the condition:

  • Affects about 12.3 million people in the United States and as many as 60 million people worldwide
  • 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

See Serotonin and Dopamine in Action

Researchers have identified two chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that 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.







Bipolar Depression Can Be Tough to Manage

People with bipolar disorder have normal moods about half the time, when they aren’t experiencing symptoms of either mania or depression. But sooner or later, everyone with bipolar disorder experiences one or more depressive episodes.

Bipolar depression can get in the way of the important things in life—family, home, and work. Most people find the symptoms of depression harder to deal with because they happen more often and last longer than the symptoms of mania. On average, people with bipolar disorder spend three times as much of their time in a depressed mood as in manic episodes.

While it can be challenging to manage bipolar disorder, there are support groups out there that may help. Find out more about these support organizations.

Could You Have Bipolar Depression?

Fill out the Mood Disorder Questionnaire and share it with your doctor. The questionnaire has been found by physicians to be a useful preliminary screener, and by patients to be a simple way to record their experience so they can discuss it with their doctors.

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 may have some answers to questions that are on your mind.

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. Speak 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 healthcare 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).

Bipolar depression is part of the condition known as bipolar disorder.

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